RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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262 Infrastructure//Space: infrastructural troubles and struggles in the Global North and South (2)
Affiliation Planning and Environment Research Group
Convenor(s) Will Eadson (Sheffield Hallam University, UK)
Soeren Becker (University of Bonn, Germany)
Gerald Taylor Aiken (University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg)
Chair(s) Soeren Becker (University of Bonn, Germany)
Timetable Thursday 29 August 2019, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Skempton Building, Room 301
Session abstract Infrastructure has become a new leitmotif for debates surrounding urban futures, sustainability and connection. Throughout the social sciences, work after the ‘infrastructural turn’ has focussed on a variety of issues: infrastructures as the hidden guarantor of global links and the current world order (Easterling 2014); infrastructure as reflecting and (re)producing social and spatial inequities (Graham and Marvin 2001); the transformation of infrastructures through political struggles and subjectivities (Luque-Ayala and Silver 2018); and infrastructures as made and remade through practice and everyday life. Across the various debates on different realms of energy, water, communication, waste, green space, education, and other technical ecological and social infrastructures, infrastructure research has served as an entry point for a critical theorisation of social relations from different epistemic and theoretical perspectives.

This session builds on these debates while explicitly targeting the spatial features of infrastructures and struggles to maintain, defend and transform infrastructure in different socio-spatial contexts. As often debates are pursued in segregated fields such as urban, energy, or development geography, we seek to combine contributions across these debates to conceptually and empirically advance the understanding of spatial features in various kinds of infrastructure transitions. In particular we are interested in contributions that speak to the RGS-IBG 2019 themes of troubles and hope, with a focus on justice, democracy and equity. An overarching question therefore is: how are infrastructures being made, maintained and remade through struggle and what might a hopeful geography of infrastructure look like?
Linked Sessions Infrastructure//Space: infrastructural troubles and struggles in the Global North and South (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Material consequences: Chinese iron ore demand and steel supply in the Arctic
Mia Bennett (University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
China’s polar activities are typically explained as emerging from national interests in scientific research, natural resources, shipping, climate change, and global governance. Yet few academic or political legitimations of China’s Arctic activities tie them to the country’s metallurgical supply and demand. This paper fills that gap through analysis of the impacts of and responses to China’s expanding iron and steel industries in the Arctic. Using a global commodity chain framework with emphasis on materiality and relationality, it considers how the extractive impacts of iron mining and the intensive impacts of the development of steel-based infrastructure are often realized in the same space. The combination of these processes creates a “double frontier” in spaces like the Arctic, which serves as an extractive frontier from which raw materials are imported and an intensive frontier to which their value-added outputs are exported. To analyze these processes, this paper explores four vignettes that address first, the spatial expansion of China’s iron and steel sectors, second, the restarting of iron ore production in northern Quebec, third, the Chinese-funded construction of infrastructure across the Arctic, and fourth, the abstraction of the Chinese iron ore industry through environmental and financial measures that improve the position of the country’s cities while exacerbating the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of its metallurgical sectors in frontiers. Attention to the material substances driving China’s economic expansion demonstrates how the country’s globe-spanning iron and steel industries are reworking and restructuring social and ecological processes in the north while reproducing the region’s marginalization.
Textile enclaves and soybean trains. Providing infrastructures for global production in Ethiopia and Argentina
Elke Beyer (Technische Universität Berlin, Germany)
Lucas-Andrés Elsner (TU Berlin, Germany)
Globally dispersed patterns of production and consumption are effectuated through large-scale physical infrastructures with massive impact on their (peri-)urban environments (Kanai & Schindler 2018). In this paper, we focus on specific infrastructures for processing, manufacturing and circulation of commodities in the metropolitan areas of Mekelle, Ethiopia and Rosario, Argentina. The case study of Mekelle concerns building spaces of global clothing production in conjunction with national transport networks while the Rosario case focuses on soybean processing facilities and the infrastructures connecting them to agricultural regions and global markets (railways, highways and ports). In both cases, major infrastructural projects have been developed in cooperation with Chinese companies and financial institutions in recent years. We discuss physical architectures, urban context and geographical scope of these infrastructures, and situate them within different spatial and temporal layers of infrastructure and industry development. Moreover, we seek to disentangle the complex web of actors, interest coalitions and conflicts involved in their planning and realization. Ultimately, we aim to build an understanding how material infrastructures of globalized production articulate and embed particular uneven spatial and social relations. Informed by recent debates on the role of space in Global Commodity Chains and Global Production Networks (Brown et al., 2010; Kleibert & Horner, 2018; Phelps, 2017) and the frameworks’ engagement with critical theory (Bair & Werner, 2011; Werner, 2016) we propose an approach which links concepts of global production relations with geographical thinking on uneven spatial development (Sheppard, 2016; Smith, 1984, Danyluk 2017). The latter Marxist approaches offer promising entry points for examining relationships between the built environment and global production relations and for contextualizing these within the larger political economy of uneven spatial development. Discussing the developments in Mekelle and Rosario against this conceptual background we aim to contribute to the understanding of the interlinkages between transnational infrastructure provision, the formation of global production networks and contested urban spatial development. The paper draws on recent research including site visits and stakeholder interviews in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa and Mekelle) and Argentina (Rosario and Buenos Aires).
Making chicken (in)edible: infrastructure, everyday performance and the volatility of normal food
Lydia Martens (Keele University, UK)
Mike Foden (Keele University, UK)
The monumental rise in global chicken-meat consumption since the middle of the twentieth century epitomises the modern infrastructural accomplishment in crisis. This more than tenfold increase has coincided not only with intensification of agricultural methods and retail arrangements, but a transformation in the biological make-up of the bird itself. The broiler chicken is arguably the archetypal Anthropocene species: the past sixty years have seen dramatic changes in its growth rate and body shape, cultivating an affordable, versatile and readily available dietary protein source in an animal reliant on human-technological intervention to survive (Bennett et al, 2018). In addition to profound ethical questions as to the quality of its short life and the environmental overflows of industrial-scale poultry production, these same developments have produced the conditions for a highly volatile ‘chicken-fleshy-microbiome’, the risky consequences of which are managed at the intersection of infrastructures of provision and everyday consumer performances (Boyd and Watts, 1997; Hinchliffe, 2015). Our primary empirical focus in this paper is on the latter, drawing on recent transdisciplinary fieldwork observing household food practices from retail to fork. We present an analysis of the volatility management work performed at three food selection and handling events: purchasing, preparing, and cooking chicken. Our particular interest is in how work done at the situated/micro/performance-level both reproduces and is constituted by wider sociotechnical configurations, including the extent to which these configurations ‘take care of’ volatility, while relying on competent performances to keep chicken ‘normal’. However, it is in the potential of these performances to make trouble that our account ultimately draws tentative hope: seeing normalisation as contingent on active daily work provides glimpses of how incumbent infrastructures might be transformed.
Reconstructing the sustainability of the urban built environment through ‘systems of practice’'
Rachel Macrorie (University of Sheffield, UK)
Examining recent failed attempts to decarbonise the urban built environment in the UK, this paper adopts a ‘Theories of Practice’ (SPT) lens to challenge the established techno-rational paradigm that energy savings in housing infrastructures rely on optimal design, technological diffusion and ‘correct’ adoption and usage. The SPT approach highlights often overlooked connections between: the procurement, supply and assembly of low-energy building materials and products; professional expertise and household practitioner knowledge; and innate meanings associated with housing infrastructures, home and comfort. Responding to critique that SPT focus on the local and immediate, and have limited ability to account for contested political economies around infrastructural transformation, the paper develops a systemic approach to analysing practice change (and stability) as unfolding in a complex political and market landscape. This approach recognises that individual practices are ‘always and inseparably bound up in wider ‘systems of practice’ (SoP) that extend across space and time’ (Macrorie et al., 2014, p.97). Appraising the (now withdrawn) UK Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) and its implementation at a carbon-neutral social housing development through use of the SoP framework highlights socio-technical change (and stability) operating across scales, sites and sets of actors, as well as highlighting points for intervention and of contestation. Calls are made for research to further define practice system boundaries and account for the role of power in enabling (and restricting) transformative change in the built environment, as well as in other socio-technical urban domains.