EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution

(P060)

The anthropology of infrastructure: ordering people, places, and imaginaries

Location T-304
Date and Start Time 03 August, 2014 at 09:00

Convenors

Bruce O'Neill (Saint Louis University) email
Liviu Chelcea (University of Bucharest) email
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Short Abstract

This panel takes up infrastructure to explore ethnographically the ordering of people, places, and imaginaries. Papers will tack between infrastructure's concrete form and its (in)tangible affects to make fresh insights into the politics of poverty and belonging in an increasingly unequal world.

Long Abstract

Anthropologists, in recent years, have shown increasing interest in infrastructure as an ethnographic object. From the extraction and circulation of geological substances to the mundane construction of roads, pipes, and cables, anthropologists are turning to infrastructure as a critical site for making sense of the connections, disconnections, and impasses that frame people's unequal experience of modernity. How, and to what effect, does infrastructure bridge far reaching points in the world while simultaneously leaving adjacent spaces worlds apart? How does infrastructure organize not just physical spaces but also senses of belonging to a wider global community? What kinds of affective states and cultural imaginaries does infrastructure bring about through its (in)ability to facilitate the movement of people, images, and ideas? What kinds of unplanned and "illicit" orders does infrastructure make possible? And how might we imagine effective "structures of responsibility" capable of regulating infrastructural grids that crisscross not just cities and states but continents and oceans? Inspired by a thickening literature in anthropology, geography, ecology, and science and technology studies, this panel approaches infrastructure as a dynamic social, material, and affective form that offers clear insight into the politics of inclusion and exclusion within a world too easily framed as "interconnected." This panel's aim, ultimately, is to tack between the concrete and the abstract in order to make productive insights into a modern world marked by increasing levels of inequality.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

(Post)industrial heritage as the content and the context of Warsaw museums

Author: Lukasz Bukowiecki (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

The capital city of Poland is full of paradoxes. One of them is that the industrial content is still present in some museums' exhibitions there, nevertheless Warsaw at first glance is not an industrial city any more.

Long Abstract

I would like to focus on selected museums' impact on experiencing of urban space in Warsaw in its physical, visual and social dimensions and look at the three-way relations between the museums, the city and the 'users of the city' (not only permanent inhabitants nor tourists) in the context of (lack of) management of (post)industrial heritage - the tangible one (exhibits, monuments, infrastructure) as well as the intangible one (human practices and beliefs). Old-fashioned displays in Museum of Technology located in the socrealistic skyscraper in the city centre and brand new interactive experimental devices in the Copernicus Science Centre (opened in 2010 on the Vistula riverbank) differ from each other not only due to the attitude to visitors but also by two distinctive visions of nature: in the Museum of Technology nature is presented mainly as the resource (to be used in the industry through technology), while in the Copernicus Science Centre nature becomes a mystery (to be discovered for the common good and sustainable development thanks to science and its dissemination). How does it reflect Warsaw infrastructure order? Among many other explanations I want to underline that on the most general level the coexistence of industrial and postindustrial imaginaries in perception of nature in two museums shows how competitive solutions could be simultaneously used to frame people’s activity – as it also happens in urban space, where some older developed systems are too big to be switched off but at the same time they are insufficient, unstable and supported by growing ‘doublers’.

Agents in the (infra)structure: boundaries and limits of imaginary and virtual worlds

Author: Marie Heřmanová (Charles University Prague)  email

Short Abstract

Based on a fieldwork in the south of Mexico, the paper explores how young indigenous people incorporate images from electronic media in their collective imageries of „modern" and conceptualizes the relation between the infrastructure of digital media and the immagined communities that emerge from it.

Long Abstract

The contemporary world is often described as "interconnected". People in remote places all around the world are on everyday basis faced with images from a reality that is happening far away from them. The infrastructure of electronic media and social networks connection creates unprecedent virtual closennes, while at the same time constituting "real" distance from the immediate enviroment. The paper is based on a long-term fieldwork at the suburbs of Mexican touristic metropolis of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and deals with the ways in which young indigenous people from the marginalized suburban areas are incorporating the virtual images of what it means to be "modern" or "Western" in the negotiating of their cultural identity. Drawing on Alexei Yurchak's notion of "imaginary West", the paper explores the impact that these imaginary worlds have on the lives of disadvantaged and marginalized people. While seemingly creating a chance of a "better life", the imaginary lifepaths never come true - and they are thus only making the gap between real and virtual more present and visible. Based on ethnographic data, an attempt is made to concptualize the classic distincition between structure and agency (so often used when intepreting marginality) in new terms of "infrastructure" and its "limits".

Between the concrete and the imaginary

Author: Maria Nielsen (Aarhus University)  email

Short Abstract

Brazil is currently experiencing rapid infrastructural changes in order to accommodate the World Cup. I explore the uneven effects of such a project and question the idea of interconnectedness, by focusing on how the new roads crisscross an urban area, and how people relate (or not) to the changes.

Long Abstract

Brazil is currently experiencing rapid infrastructural changes. The two upcoming events, the World Cup and the Olympics, are restructuring urban life. Based on long-term fieldwork in North East Brazil in the urban periphery of the city Recife, this paper explores how the infrastructural changes are experienced. The new stadium for the 2014 World Cup is visible from some of my informants' porches. But change does not seem to have arrived in the neighbourhood, even though profound changes are taking place in front of people's eyes.

This paper asks how people in a neighbourhood of a mix of informal and formal housings relate (or not) to the transformation of the built environment? I will question the idea of interconnectedness, by following the new network of roads. Focusing on the uneven effects of infrastructural projects, I examine which places are connected and which are not. Does new roads necessarily pertain connectedness?

Lack of water, insufficient sanitation and roads in bad condition shape everyday life in the urban periphery. Nevertheless, posters of new urban areas bear a promise of a different future with them. How does this confluence with plans and imaginaries of people living on the edge of infrastructural changes? This paper seeks to explain how infrastructure orders things and people in a concrete way, but at the same time might create possible futures in a figurative manner. It is an exploration of the unintended effects of infrastructures. Dust, traffic jams and rising house prices are all consequences people have to face.

Children's environmental experiences of travel, places and times: a case of Latvians in Europe

Author: Aija Lulle (University of Latvia)  email

Short Abstract

Based on phenomenological geography I study migrant children experiences of temporary emplacements and travel, conceptualising infrastructure both as material and symbolic meshwork.

Long Abstract

Like several new European Union's member states Latvia has experienced a wide-scale emigration during the past two decades. However, many migrants continue travelling back to Latvia and for that they use multiple infrastructures that connect distant places. Yet, little is known how children themselves experience their transnational lives and what connections they make to different places.

Based on phenomenological geography and environmental experiences in particular, I study children and family experiences of temporary emplacements and travel, conceptualising infrastructure both as material and symbolic meshwork. I map out, what are significant places and locales, for children (and families) when they travel to and from Latvia and when they temporary stay there, e.g., during summer holidays. Planes, cars, airports, cafes, escalators, farms in homesteads, a local ice-cream kiosk - all these and other infrastructural objects are interwoven into a meshwork of subjectivities of transnational childhood.

The paper is based on a long term ethnographic fieldwork (2012-2014) with Latvian families where parents work in United Kingdom or in Nordic countries and return to Latvia with their children for shorter or longer periods of times. Better understanding of children environmental experiences can lead us to broader theoretical concepts of infrastructure and also to so much needed better informed policies.

Contesting the public good in an age of nation-branding: debates over infrastructure in Skopje, Macedonia

Author: Andrew Graan (University of Chicago)  email

Short Abstract

Through ethnographic accounts of the controversy over Skopje 2014, a major urban development project ongoing in Macedonia, this paper analyzes how the political logics of nation branding and claims to national brand value predicate re-evaluations of the public good in the neoliberal nation-state.

Long Abstract

This paper analyzes how the political logic of nation branding and national brand value predicate re-evaluations of state morality and the public good in neoliberal Macedonia. In 2010, Macedonian government officials announced a major urban renovation plan designed to anchor the development of a new nation brand for the small Balkan country. Titled Skopje 2014, the project has already transformed Macedonia's capital city through the addition of an astounding number of new sculptures, monuments, museums and other buildings. Project supporters celebrate its positive contribution to Macedonia's "international image" and thus to the national economy via the enhanced attraction of foreign investment and tourism. Critics of Skopje 2014, however, have argued that the project substitutes expensive and frivolous political ornamentation for sounder investment in education, public works and infrastructure. I argue that this debate over Skopje 2014 and its nation-branding goals turns on contrasting ideologies of economic value and their concomitant moral visions of the state. From one perspective, nation branding is construed as a strategic form of semiotic regimentation that results in economic value for the nation. From the other perspective, the political economic model of nation branding and the value it claims to produce are challenged with counter-narratives on economic security and state responsibility. Through ethnographic accounts of the controversy of Skopje 2014 in Macedonia, this paper thus investigates the moral and political anxieties that emerge in response to nation branding and its political logics.

Disconnecting connections: implementation of basic engineering networks in a Roma settlement

Author: Tomáš Kobes (University of West Bohemia)  email

Short Abstract

By focusing on basic engineering network implementation in an East Slovak Roma settlement, the paper examines the infrastructural change as a system of disconnecting connections creating a complex of heterogeneous practices and knowledge, which empowers the existing local trap of social exclusion.

Long Abstract

Drawing on my fieldwork, the paper will discuss effects of implementation of basic engineering networks in an Eastern Slovak Roma settlement. According to current information, there are about 900 socially excluded areas in Slovakia, usually described both by the lay public and professionals as Roma settlements. In many cases these areas are illegal and lack basic engineering networks and civic amenities. However, since late 1990s, many of these areas have gone through deep structural change, focusing mainly on building basic infrastructure and new housing estates. This structural change organizes space and social relationships on a local level in new and often unexpected ways. By focusing on infrastructural implementation (public lighting and electricity network implementation) the paper examines this infrastructural change as a system of "disconnecting connections" where it is possible to identify a complex of heterogeneous practices and knowledge both among members of the majority and of the residents of the Roma settlement, which empowers the existing local trap of social exclusion.

Home is where the sledgehammer swings

Author: John Collins (CUNY)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the affective basis of belonging as enacted in the demolition of private homes by undocumented immigrant workers in Queens, New York. It focuses on conceptions of home and the unhomely put forth by workers who demolish domestic spaces while working far from their own homes.

Long Abstract

This paper about the sentimental contours of home in the context of western Queens' immigrant-powered construction boom is based on two years of participant observation with Ecuadorean and Mexican undocumented workers in New York's demolition industry. It engages infrastructure as both a concrete form and structure of feeling by following workers as they seek, or fail to seek, to make sense of the domestic spaces they demolish. How do single men paid to destroy others' homes while far from their own families conceptualize the infrastructure of belonging? How does absence, and the feelings it produces and which render it legible, become tangible in relation to architecture and domestic objects? My responses to these questions, which are influenced by Freud's conceptualization of the unhomely as a form of alienation, turn on a close examination of the methods used in demolition, the comments and bodily dispositions evinced by workers, and their treatment of household architectures and objects as they intuit histories and functions for the spaces they demolish. The paper thus speaks concretely to the ways subjects make themselves at home in the world while engaging that which is not physically present, but nonetheless palpably unsettling.

Infrastructures and their absences: intimacy and distance in the borderlands of southern Belize

Author: Sophie Haines (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines how formal, informal, incomplete and/or absent infrastructures (of boundary marking, communication and transportation) influence and are influenced by the political, social, economic and environmental realities of living near the contested Belize-Guatemala border.

Long Abstract

In southern Belize, near the border with Guatemala, there are few formal, fixed, tangible infrastructures of border demarcation. This very lack of markers, fences, and immigration posts calls attention to the border's geopolitical significance/controversy. Nearby, the material forms of roads, cables, pipes, clinics and public buildings elicit stories about histories and imagined futures of mobility, communication, health, defence, and the roles of states and donors; stories are also conjured by abandonment, obsolescence and absence, and by unintended or unanticipated effects of the (un-)built environment. Thus, infrastructures and their absences summon emotive debates over political-economic inequalities, environmental resources and national security; they reflect and constitute (post)colonial territorialities, and become embedded in perceptions of the environment.

People who live and work near the border often engage in genial and intimate cross-border social/economic collaborations, frequently facilitated by infrastructures whose forms, effects and affects are less concrete and fixed, more flexible and unruly (footpaths, cellular networks, 'informal' land-use arrangements). Simultaneously, the border's uncertainties contribute to fears and experiences of violence that underpin anxiety and defensiveness. At a time when new concrete infrastructures are being constructed near (and potentially across) this internationally contested border, what do such processes mean and entail for people whose lives and livelihoods will be proximally affected? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, the paper traces how infrastructures and relationships of intimacy and distance generate potential for collaboration and challenge, thus placing this 'marginal' locale at the heart of the region's planned and imagined futures.

Plumbing, housing repairs, and infrastructures in Bucharest, Romania

Author: Liviu Chelcea (University of Bucharest)  email

Short Abstract

The anthropology of houses and the anthropology of infrastructure may be hybridized through an ethnographic focus on plumbing and housing repairs.

Long Abstract

References to plumbing usually surface in anthropological texts as meta-commentary on civilization, post-colonialism, ethnographic location, development, cultural distance, or evolution, but ethnographers have been largely inattentive to plumbing as an analytic tool and ethnographic object. Plumbing is simultaneously a material, political, and symbolic practice. Social studies of infrastructure generally claim that urban infrastructures are materially and symbolically hidden, arguing that they become visible only when they malfunction. Drawing on fieldwork carried out in Bucharest, I question that claim, based on the way long-term tenants in nationalized housing conceptualize plumbing and housing repair as ownership. Without crisis or malfunction, tenants make symbolically visible, collectivize, and politicize the past plumbing of capillary endings of urban infrastructure in order to retain occupancy and gain ownership. These past interventions are (1) recompartmentalization-driven plumbing, (2) improved connectivity to municipal gas, water, or electricity networks as well as (3) ordinary running repairs. I describe the theoretical implications of analyzing the flows, materialities, and agencies of plumbing for the ethnographies of houses and urban infrastructures.

Subsidized housing comfort: hopefulness and anxieties shaped by thermal rehabilitation of buildings

Author: Bogdan Iancu (National School of Political Studies and Public Administration Bucharest / Museum of Romanian Peasant )  email

Short Abstract

The goal of this paper is to illustrate the setup of the subsidized thermal rehabilitation as a pedagogical tool and discrepant cultural object, as it embodies a desirable housing modernity but also the way in which it becomes a source of disquiet in Romanian homes.

Long Abstract

In the last decade, the urban landscape of Bucharest resembles that of a city after an earthquake or a bombardment: hundreds of construction sites cover the districts, and old windows are taken down and left for a while leaning against the fences around the buildings because of conspicuous thermal rehabilitation of buildings. The residential experience in (subsidized) insulated apartments becomes the desired standard for most of the residents of Bucharest and is the object that generated anxieties for those who are excluded and are self-defined as "second-rank citizens". It is not only a matter of deprivation of revitalized infrastructure but also one of captivity in a grey horizon, associated to precariousness of socialism era. The thermal rehabilitation and the double-glazing closure of balconies, envisaged by the neoliberal policies of the postsocialist state, paradoxically fulfills the informal and illegal rehabilitation projects of socialist flats. A consequence of these policies and regulations is that a codified cultural element, such as comfort, has become standardized inside the narrow and un-negotiated limits of the thermal insulation process. Finally, as my ethnographic data will illustrate, because of ignoring the socialist legacy of the infrastructures, more than producing new energy consumers throughout recent politics of rehabilitation based on double-glazing balconies and windows a reluctant consumer of devices of comfort is being shaped. The goal of this paper is to illustrate the setup of the subsidized thermal rehabilitation as a pedagogical tool and discrepant cultural object, as it becomes a source of disquiet in Romanian homes.

The 'naked city': a shimmering mirage of nomadic state infrastructure in the Sahara Desert

Author: Konstantina Isidoros (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

In refugee camps as non-lieux of incomplete development and states of exception, Saharan nomads have been re-ordering their ‘naked city’. Overlooked as flimsy structures, nomadic tents instead have architectural rationale, creating a novel sociospatial form of nation-state infrastructure.

Long Abstract

Refugee camps, as ‘spaces of incomplete development’ (Sanyal) and as ‘non-lieux’ (Augé), are rarely ‘plumbed in’ in the mundane sense of urbanising infrastructure. Correspondingly, nomadic tents are seldom studied, too easily overlooked as ‘flimsy’ irrelevant structures. In the Sahara Desert, following failed decolonisation (1975) and an ongoing war for self-determination, something hybrid is being constructed by the Sahrāwī nomads. Not immediately obvious is that their six refugee camps represent traditional nomadic encampments where tents are self-sufficient infrastructural units which together create an unexpected imaginary of a ‘floating’ nation-state. This deserves scholarly attention without epistemological restriction to the West’s own default imaginary.

My ethnographic data illuminate how Sahrāwī nomads have been using refugee tents as customary tents to re-order themselves and their sense of place. I suggest this has created a novel sociospatial form of nation-state, without the lower-level ‘plumbing’ of urbanising infrastructure. Using Agamben’s ‘state of exception’ where ‘everything is potential but nothing develops’ and Agier’s ‘naked city’, I argue that nomad tents have enough architectural rationale to agglomerate into tent-cities to form a tent-State. In re-theorising their own spatial concepts of abstract and concrete, Sahrāwī nomads are innovatively ‘floating’ the infrastructure of nation-state above their refugee camps, as a ‘waiting’ model to be transplanted upon return to homeland. The tacking between the concrete and the abstract in this Saharan context is situated in the shimmering mirage of the (in)tangible, (il)legitimate and (il)logic of international law.

The imaginary infrastructure of the chronotope: the virtual ordering of people and places through visions and visits in the veneration of Muslims saints in Hatay, Turkey

Author: Jens Kreinath (Wichita State University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper presents an ethnographic account of the chronotope as the imaginary infrastructure in the veneration of a Muslim saint as practiced at sacred sites in Hatay, Turkey. In particular, it addresses how the worship of Muslim saints orders people and places through visits and their appearance in visions.

Long Abstract

This paper presents ethnographic accounts on local traditions of the veneration of a Muslim saint as practiced at sacred sites in Hatay, Turkey. In particular, it addresses the worship of Hızır, who is venerated in wish-making, as well as that of Şeyh Yusuf el-Hekim, who was supposedly a medical doctor and worshiped for his power of healing in dreams. The Qur'anic narrative of Moses' encounter with Hızır is presented in this paper as a chronotope, which following Mikhail Bakhtin serves as a template for interpreting personal accounts of virtual encounters with Hızır, as well as other forms of dreaming and healing experiences related to Muslim saints like Şeyh Yusuf el-Hekim. Elaborating on the spatial and temporal dimensions of the legendary encounter of Moses with Hızır, the local interpretations of this narrative are each taken as dimensions of a chronotope. These dimensions play a significant role in shaping traditions of saint veneration among members of the Sunni and Alawi communities in Hatay. Historians of religion and anthropologists of the Middle East widely acknowledge that the veneration of saints played a major role in the formation and transmission of local traditions of Islam; however, scholars working within the anthropology of Islam in Turkey and the Middle East have not yet sufficiently theorized these features in relation to virtual encounters with Muslim saints, in particular, they did not explore alternative ways to approach and interpret these encounters.

Thickening borders: an anthropological understanding of the policing of internal borders

Author: Paul Mutsaers (Tilburg University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses an ethnography of the policing of internal borders that has become a major feature of statecraft that involves multi-agency networks which detect, detain and deport non-citizens. It deals with the consequences of the infrastructural violence that flows from these networks.

Long Abstract

Gilberto Rosas has persuasively argued that borderland conditions are no longer geographically fixed for migrants by the borders of the nation. For some people borders are virtually everywhere, resulting in what De Genova has called the experience of 'deportability' in everyday life; the palpable sense that deportation is always a possibility. Scant attention has been paid to these 'thickening borders'. On the basis of five years of ethnographic study (2008-2013) on ethnic boundaries in the policing of migrants in the Netherlands, a paper is written that discusses this notion of 'thickening borders' and shows that it is closely connected to the notion of 'infrastructural violence' (Rodgers and O'Neill). By discussing the life of a Somali immigrant in the Netherlands, it is argued that thickening borders are particularly felt as a form of disconnection and in very important ways this is a disconnection from the infrastructures of the localities in which people (like our key informant) linger. The access that non-citizens, or 'illegal foreigners', have to these infrastructures is increasingly dependent on multi-agency networks of policing (the practice, not the institution) that include a wide array of private, public and semi-public institutions. Exclusion from these infrastructures means a severe form of social suffering that is experienced in material and physical terms.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.