RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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305 Infrastructure and Citizenship: (de)constructing state-society relations (1): Ownership and voice
Affiliation Energy Geographies Research Group
Developing Areas Research Group
Political Geography Research Group
Urban Geography Research Group
Convenor(s) Charlotte Lemanski (University of Cambridge, UK)
Jon Phillips (University of Cambridge, UK)
Chair(s) Charlotte Lemanski (University of Cambridge, UK)
Timetable Friday 30 August 2019, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room 6
Session abstract Within urban geography, infrastructure has become a core lens for understanding the city, whereby infrastructure is conceptualised as a technical or physical representation of socio-political processes (e.g. Graham and Marvin 2001; Amin 2014, Coutard & Rutherford 2015). Similarly, citizenship is promoted within political and development geography as vital for understanding socio-political life, emphasising the role played by citizen action rather than legal rules per se (e.g. Painter and Philo 1995; Isin and Nielson 2008; Staeheli 2010; Cornwall et al 2011; Staeheli et al 2012). Recent scholarship has begun to interrogate how infrastructure can mediate and manifest state-society relations (Lemanski 2019); Or, how citizens’ access and use of infrastructure affects, and is affected by, their citizenship identity and practice. Yet, despite the growth in critical studies of urban infrastructure, the multiple ways that citizenship and infrastructure relate in diverse urban settings has received limited critical attention.

We invite papers that explore relationships between infrastructure and citizenship, as socio-technical and legal-political ways through which urban space, institutions, processes and people are governed. We encourage papers that embrace the everyday perspectives of the urban dwellers and state representatives who inhabit the material (infrastructural) and political (citizenship) spaces of the city. And we welcome critical engagement with concepts of both citizenship and infrastructure. The session is planned in a standard paper format, inviting papers that may be primarily theoretical and/or empirical, and could be based on comparative or singular case studies from around the world.
Linked Sessions Infrastructure and Citizenship: (de)constructing state-society relations (2): Inclusion/Exclusion
Infrastructure and Citizenship: (de)constructing state-society relations (3): Practices and Visions
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Global Remunicipalisation and the Post-Neoliberal Turn: Democratising Infrastructures
Franziska Paul (University of Glasgow, UK)
Andrew Cumbers (University of Glasgow, UK)
This presentation reflects on the potential of the global remunicipalisation process to reshape urban infrastructure to promote democratisation and civic participation in cities and regions. It is based on an ongoing, five-year research project titled “Global Remunicipalisation and the Post-Neoliberal Turn”. The project explores remunicipalisation in the Global North and South, a global trend since 2000 (involving 835 cases in 45 countries) for cities to take formerly privatised assets, infrastructure and services back into public ownership. As such, remunicipalisation marks a significant departure in existing urban governance processes, signalling a decisive shift against the dominant form of neoliberalism that has held sway since the 1980s. The research advances the thesis that remunicipalisation represents a critical moment in the demise of neoliberalism, signifying a shift towards a new post-neoliberal urban governance regime. This has fundamental implications for cities (and democracies) and their infrastructures in terms of how they are managed, who is involved and who benefits from urban development processes, with the re-introduction of more state-driven and potentially more democratic public forms. Remunicipalisation initiatives suggest the emergence of new public spaces that reclaim the state for more progressive social ends. Conversely, there is a possibility that remunicipalised organisations continue to operate through the same commercialised logics of the privatised forms that they replace whilst failing to transform splintered and fragmented urban infrastructures for the greater common good. The presentation thus contributes to a discussion of the role of remunicipalised infrastructures in shaping state-society relations, and the potential of remunicipalisation to promote civic participation and a more democratic urban politics.
Citizenship, participation, and infrastructure: Energy innovation in Cape Town’s low-cost housing sector
Ruth Massey (University of Huddersfield, UK)
Charlotte Lemanski (University of Cambridge, UK)
Jiska de Groot (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
In South Africa citizenship is strongly tied to infrastructure. The rights of all citizens to basic infrastructure and services are enshrined in the constitution and form a significant part of political parties’ election manifestos. Local municipalities are responsible for providing water, housing, electricity, and sanitation to citizens, however, this process of service delivery has limitations, particularly with regards to public participation. This paper presents the findings of empirical research undertaken in two government funded low-cost housing developments in Cape Town, South Africa, during 2018. The two case studies discussed (Witsand and Wesbank) were both part of energy innovation projects delivered and overseen by the local state. In both instances, however, the public participation process was haphazard, resulting in citizens demonstrating feelings of disenfranchisement, a lack of agency and voice, and little sense of ownership over the infrastructure delivered. This was further complicated by the number of stakeholders involved in the projects (government, NGOs, entrepreneurs, developers), each with competing visions, discourses, timelines, and priorities; that effectively silenced the voice of the communities themselves. These specific cases demonstrate the limitations of the state’s perception of low-cost housing residents as welfare recipients rather than active citizens with voice, expertise, and aspirations. This raises larger questions of how the state views and engages its less-wealthy citizens and, more broadly, what it considers citizenship to be. It also requires us to think more broadly about the role that public participation in infrastructure projects plays in building a sense of citizenship.
The Infrastructural ‘WE’: the Gendered Materiality of Infrastructure and Citizenship
Hanna Ruszczyk (Durham University, UK)
Recent years have seen a resurgence of critical interest in infrastructure, with an impressive literature created by scholars focusing on the urban South. However, residents of cities that are increasingly urban have been insufficiently interrogated as critical elements of infrastructure. This paper addresses two gaps in urban studies and responds to both. Firstly, the conceptualisation of urban infrastructure is broadened to consider infrastructure in the form of gendered ‘WE’ ness. This paper describes the informal groups women and men create to enact their citizenship in the regional cities of Nepal. It is within this post-conflict, hazard prone and precarious context that the infrastructural ‘WE’ becomes relevant.

Secondly, this article draws attention to the gendered materiality of infrastructure and how it is governed. An examination of gender relations and power struggles showcases how local authorities govern by deciding who is acknowledged as a form of ‘WE’ ness (neighbourhood groups rather than women’s groups) and how the government manages this gray space to suit its political agenda. Women are essential to the development of the city under the terms and conditions established by those who have power and those who are striving for more influence in a rapidly changing context. This conceptual understanding of infrastructure as a ‘WE’, social and political, creates a scholarly opening for urban studies to consider the struggles and strategies of residents in a new light and the tensions between citizenship and infrastructure
Financial or societal returns? Exploring the ambiguous role of public utility company Fluvius in the energy transition in Flanders
Laura Deruytter (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)
Griet Juwet (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)
Municipalities are expected to play a key role in energy transitions, but are also experiencincg increasing budgetary pressure and a dependence on short-term returns. Our paper explores the tension between financial and societal returns for localities by unravelling the ambiguous role of the public utility company Fluvius in sustainable energy transition in Flanders. Predominantly owned by municipalities, Fluvius is a large-scale and incumbent actor in the distribution of electricity and gas for the whole Flemish region. As such, Fluvius could potentially facilitate transition in several ways: by investing in sustainable alternatives, stimulating energy democracy through citizen engagement and fight energy precarity through local heating districts. At the moment, however, Fluvius has large sunk investments in fossil fuels, such as gas, and also faces financial challenges such as attracting private capital, servicing bonds and maintaining its credit rating. Municipalities, and thus local politicians, have a director’s role in Fluvius by formulating and implementing energy ambitions, yet struggle with budgetary squeezes and investment demands. Yearly dividends from Fluvius are a welcome addition to their funds, but represent a vested interest in the energy system as it is. Furthermore, Fluvius’ opaque and technocratic structure limits municipalities and citizens’ say in decision-making over the energy grid. By using in-depth stakeholder interviews, we explore these tensions between sustainable goals and political-economic pressures by building on transition theory, foundational economy and financialization studies. From a policy angle, we reflect on how governance arrangements such as public companies can hamper or advance the sustainable energy transition.