EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Intimacies of infrastructure

Location M-218
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Penny Harvey (University of Manchester) email
Atsuro Morita (Osaka University) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel approaches environmental infrastructures as collaborative and distributed ventures that involve specific modes of intimacy and co-presence, both social and material. Our aim is to explore the emergent ontologies and politics that such infrastructural systems entail

Long Abstract

Across the world, infrastructural projects are undertaken to reconfigure the social and material conditions of life in response to changing and uncertain environmental circumstances. These projects include river and coastal defence systems, energy and water systems, global circulations for the disposal and re-use of waste, and the on-going and unresolved negotiation of the tension between sustaining environmental resources and sustaining economic growth. All such undertakings also involve regulatory, technical and administrative arrangements that attempt to specify and secure the ways in which our infrastructures emerge and develop. Ethnographic research has begun to document in some detail the uneven effects of such projects. Researchers are also attending to the ways in which ambitions to improve specific socio-material conditions often generate unforeseen effects, including threats to the lifeworlds of people whose modes of accommodation to precarious environmental conditions fail to match up to the new infrastructural dreams and schemes. These uncertain effects are not external to infrastructural forms, but are integral to the possibilities that such infrastructures offer in their particular material re-configurations of social worlds.

This panel will focus on the complex social and material relations that infrastructures entail, attending to the specific modes of intimacy and co-presence that emerge in and through particular infrastructural configurations. This ethnographic interrogation proposes a way to explore the emergent ontologies and politics of infrastructural systems.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Spiritual infrastructure/infrastructural spirits: intimacy, danger, and distance in human-nonhuman relations in South India

Author: Miho Ishii (Kyoto University)  email

Short Abstract

The aim of this study is to investigate the intimate yet dangerous relationship between humans and nonhumans. How can we maintain intimate relations while keeping our distance from dangerous nonhuman others? To answer this question, I examine būta worship and the developmental project in India.

Long Abstract

The aim of this study is to investigate the intimate yet dangerous relationship between humans and nonhumans in South India, focusing on būta worship and the developmental project. Būtas are generally considered the spirits of wild animals in forests. In rituals, people give offerings to the būtas to avoid incurring their curses. Interacting with the būtas as sensible, visible entities in the rituals, people vitalize their intimate relationship with the būtas and then let them leave for the invisible world again.

Since the 1990s, the Mangalore Special Economic Zone (MSEZ) has been under construction in this area. It is composed of several complexes consisting of manufacturing facilities and infrastructures. Not only for local inhabitants but also for employees in the MSEZ, these newly constructed machineries are seen as alien, and human-machine relations in plants are regarded as neither social nor intimate. However, crises inside the plants provide people occasions for changing such relations. While both infrastructures and the internal structures of machines are normally invisible, when an accident happens they are exposed as sensible, visible entities. In such a critical situation, the power of the machines is identified with the agency of the būta dwelling in the site. The people organize rituals to appease the būtas embodied in the machines and let them leave, or be 'buried' again. By conducting the ritual, the people (re)create the occasionally intimate and basically distant relationship with the deity-machine as a dangerous social other, and thus transform a physical infrastructure into a spiritual one.

Intimacies of ruination and accumulation along the Coruh River

Author: Erdem Evren (Zentrum Moderner Orient)  email

Short Abstract

A series of dam projects are drastically altering the social and material fabric of the towns and villages in the Eastern Black Sea region, Turkey. This paper studies their twin effects of ruination and accumulation to highlight how infrastructural intimacies are conditioned by different temporalities.

Long Abstract

Ten big dams planned to be built or already constructed along the Çoruh River in Turkey are drastically altering the social and material fabric of the towns and villages in the Çoruh valley. In particular, two mammoth projects - recently opened Deriner Dam and currently built Yusufeli Dam - are at the center of controversy for entailing the submergence of an entire town center (Yusufeli) and several villages, and the resettlement of more than twenty-thousand residents. In this paper, I am interested in understanding how the planning, imagining and building of the future through hydro-electricity is endured by local residents, activists and politicians. Some local environmental activists have written a letter addressed to the "future" and buried it underneath a kümbet (a mausoleum-like structure built by the Seljuks in the 13th century) right before its flooding by the reservoir of the Deriner Dam. The mayor of Yusufeli, on the other hand, speaks about his plans for building a miniature replica of the current town center in the new settlement area, hoping to open up the new town to "artificial tourism". I use the conceptual twins of ruination and accumulation to make sense of such cases where "visceral engagements with time" interact with infrastructure and its effects.

The material and social intimacies of waste infrastructures

Author: Penny Harvey (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on an ethnographic study of attempts to bring new waste infrastructures into being in the Cusco region of Peru, this paper considers the material and social articulations that such infrastructures imply, and the difficulties in assuming ‘common’ responsibility for environmental care.

Long Abstract

Dealing with the dramatic increase in solid waste has become an issue not just for the urban populations who struggle to find spaces adequate for disposal, but for rural and peri-urban populations who are frequently expected to accommodate, and live alongside the discarded matter of other people's lives. Waste disposal is politically contentious as it involves an unwanted intimacy with materials that smell, that attract vermin, affect land values, and prejudice other activities. However, contemporary waste disposal initiatives also work to transform discarded matter into material of value and the ownership of waste and the rights and capacities to transform it, produce new tensions over the emergent relationships between disposers and disposed.

At a time when the World Bank is explicitly looking to deliver its development initiatives in the form of infrastructural projects, this paper considers the particular modes of collaboration that such projects require from local populations. The paper argues that these collaborations require new material and social intimacies, both in terms of material reconfigurations of the environment and in terms of the reconfigured political constituencies with responsibility to sustain the new socio-material arrangements.

Drawing on an ethnographic study of attempts to bring new waste infrastructures into being in the Cusco region of Peru, this paper considers the specific and diverse material and social articulations that such infrastructures imply, and explores how the possibilities for a 'common' responsibility for environmental care are negotiated in spaces of distributed sovereignty and decentralized environmental governance.

Fencing off a mountain: environmentalists, farmers and private conservation infrastructures in Chile

Author: Piergiorgio Di Giminiani ( Universidad Catolica de Chile)  email

Short Abstract

This paper sets out to analyse infrastructural changes and collaborative schemes characterizing with private conservation in Chile. These ventures have produced fragmented forms of imagining sustainable futures as the result of infrastructural changes affecting movement in and experiences of the landscape.

Long Abstract

This paper sets out to analyse the social and material implications of environmental conservation in Chile by focusing on the infrastructural changes and collaborative schemes brought by the institution of private parks. Since the 1990s, conservation in Chile has been increasingly opened to private initiatives financed by international funds. In contrast with public parks, privately managed conservation projects have prioritized collaborative schemes with rural residents and infrastructural arrangements allowing for alternative forms of conservation other than policing.

Ethnographic research for this paper draws on the tensions among local residents and environmentalists concerning participation in the management of the private park Cahuin mountain (Araucania region) and the fencing off of this area to prevent customary livestock routes indicated by environmentalists as dangerous for forest regeneration. I argue that collaborative ventures in private conservation have produced fragmented forms of imagining sustainable futures as the result of infrastructural changes affecting movement in and experiences of the landscape that go along the opening of paths and the closure of property access. Contrasting views of the future among farmers in Chile affected by private conservation projects originate not as ramifications of the dialectical encounter between local and expert knowledge, but rather as the result of infrastructural changes reconfiguring both farmers' and environmentalists' access to and position within the world the social and environmental world they apprehend by dwelling in it. In a departure from views emphasizing the discursive nature of environmental knowledge, this paper aims to show the emergent ontologies entailed by infrastructures of conservation.

The barrage, houses on stilts and the amphibious landscape: infrastructures and cosmograms in the Chao Phraya Delta in Thailand

Author: Atsuro Morita (Osaka University)  email

Short Abstract

Materiality and sociality have been central focuses in the study of infrastructures. This paper examines the huge barrage across the Chao Phraya River and traditional houses on stilts in order to explore contrastive ontologies of the amphibious space of the Chao Phraya Delta.

Long Abstract

Infrastructures have been shown to reside at the intersection of materiality and sociality. This paper explores this intersection further by taking up two seemingly unrelated objects, the Chao Phraya Barrage across the Chao Phraya River and traditional houses on stilts located on its riverside in Thailand. Following John Tresch, the paper views these as cosmograms, objects that weave together social, natural and cosmological entities.

The 2011 Thailand floods revealed the vulnerability of modern infrastructures in the Chao Phraya Delta in Thailand. At the same time, this event has demonstrated the adaptability of traditional infrastructures. These two forms of infrastructure reflect distinctive ways of seeing and enacting the delta, an intermediary place between sea and land.

The Chao Phraya Barrage, which represents modern terrestrial infrastructure, embodies the knowledge of modern hydrology as well as the state power of Thailand, which strategically has mixed the promise of development and the cosmological order of a galactic polity, the traditional form of sovereignty in Southeast Asia. The barrage enacts the terrestrial landscape of modernity by controlling the entire water flow of the lower Chao Phraya River System. It has drained the watery landscape and created massive dry lands on which roads and western style buildings have been built. On the other hand, common houses on stilts on the riverside have repeatedly shown the resilience of traditional aquatic infrastructures. They are another type of cosmograms, which weave together water flow, riparian social space, water animals, and Buddhism and animistic divinities.

Paving the way: exploring the entanglement of mortuary rituals and road networks in Ifugao, Philippines

Author: Kathrine Ann Cagat (Monterey Peninsula College)  email

Short Abstract

This paper aims to illuminate the intersection between ritual and technology, by showing how mortuary rituals and road networks in Ifugao are entangled.

Long Abstract

While Ifugao agricultural rituals have waned, or have been altogether discontinued in some municipalities of Ifugao, mortuary rituals continue to be prevalent and widely practiced. This paper aims to understand the efficacy of well-being rites by approaching funerary rituals as a sociotechnical activity and situating it in broader discussions regarding rural development concerns within Ifugao Province. Specifically, I explore the links between the upholding of funerary rituals and the (in)accessibility of road networks in the highland province. Here, I explore the sociotechnecality of funerary rituals to understand the way in which Ifugaos recruit and deploy particular sets of knowledge and skills to increase people's capacity to engage with uncertainties. In this case, mortuary rituals serve as additional pathways for ensuring the well-being of the living and the deceased amid the uncertainties of life and the after-life. Such rituals likewise provide a channel for the maintenance of kinship ties between ancestors and descendants. Constituted in such relations are road networks that, like funerary and well-being rites, allow for mobility and access to resources and opportunities that expand Ifugaos' capacity to ensure well-being, despite the fact that such technological systems also come with their own ambiguities. Road networks are likewise crucial to the maintenance of kin relations, especially as family members have dispersed to different parts of Philippines. As such, this paper seeks to illuminate the intersection between ritual and technology, by showing how road networks and funerary rites are entangled.

Worlds pre-broken

Author: Alberto Corsin Jimenez (Spanish National Research Council (CSIC))  email

Short Abstract

An ethnographic exploration of the experimental and infra-ontological dimensions of open-source architectural work.

Long Abstract

In their recent manifesto for open-source architecture, Matthew Fuller and Usman Haque have observed that open-source designs are always already 'pre-broken' (Urban Versioning System 1.0, 2008, 30) because they must incorporate at the very root of their design a permanent capacity for deconstruction and re-assembling. These designs are therefore never quite objects, nor models or exemplars, nor representations. They fare rather as 'prototypes' whose very condition is to hold the world open as a provisional and experimental infra-ontology: where the immanent sources of materiality, symbolism and sociality are scrutinized and opened such that they may permanently de-sign and dis-place the semiosis of world-making. In this paper I present work I have been carrying out with open-source architectural collectives in Madrid. Unlike traditional infrastructural projects, where design and standardisation are generally 'black-bloxed', here architects confront head-on the challenge of 'white-boxing' their interventions: from the moment of sourcing the project's materials, to their visual and technical documentation, or the process of auto-construction with user-communities, these projects inscribe architecture with ontological instability. They are infrastructures that make room for fragility, ephemerality and intimacy within. The paper offers an ethnographic account of some of these projects, and explores the conceptual and political challenges that open up when inhabiting worlds pre-broken.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.