EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Infrastructure and imagination: Anthropocene landscapes, urban deep-ecology, cybernetic dreams and future-archaeologies

Location A-242
Date and Start Time 02 August, 2014 at 09:00


Juan Rojas Meyer (OMAIRA) email
Roger Sansi (Universitat de Barcelona) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores infrastructures as generative sites of ethnographic inquiry in relation to their potential to motivate imagination, including: environmental consciousness, fashioning of futures, utopias in film & literature, obsolescence and cybernetic urban identities.

Long Abstract

Electricity networks, bridges, dams, roads, sewer systems, oil pipelines, and ever-increasingly, the multiple-platform computerization of space and the body (Dourish & Bell 2007), are being recognized as materialized articulations of human imagination, ideology and social life. This panel is an opportunity to explore infrastructures as zones of material, practical and conceptual convergence (Anand 2012) and, to consider what kinds of ethnographic inquiry they make possible. The panel aims to table several options based on the production and, maintenance, of political authority; how people imagine and ascribe meanings in their world; how infrastructures both construct and illustrate possible futures (Jameson 2005); create utopian frames for both the city with its promises of ordered urban life-styles and the hypothetical catastrophes that will result when they fail (Clark 2006).

We wish to explore a variety of themes, including: how large and small scale infrastructures become embodied through everyday practices, stretching and compressing, processes of self-mapping, creativity in over-coming deficiencies and, negotiated surrenders. Second, 'reversals' when infrastructures are intentionally destroyed in war, industrial subterfuge or social revolutions; 'obsolescence' caused by refitting and adoption of new measures or standards -from oil refineries, frequency spectrums and packaging. Third, the psychoanalytic terms and topographies of disabused and abject (Kristeva 1982, Agamben 1998) infrastructures existing alongside those embodying functional efficacy (Lacan's 'symbolic'). Finally, to take science fiction literature and film seriously, to more fully understand the underlying materiality of architectures, hinges, handles and pins that form the infrastructural bridges into fantasy worlds and 'coherently' free the imagination.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Infrastructure ideals and reality in African cities

Author: Wolfgang Scholz (TU Dortmund University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper contributes to infrastructure theory and social studies by conceptualising urban infrastructure regimes in Africa, to planning theory by exploring the translation of Western planning models and ideals to Africa and to water supply concepts with their social and urban dimension in Africa.

Long Abstract

Infrastructure is not only a technical way of supplying services but it also compromises an ideology and a specific urban model thus producing urban space. The prevailing model is the network city with equal access to the services by a network of pipes shaping the urban fabric in a grid system. The water supply in today´s African cities, however, differs much from this infrastructure ideal. So far studies and theories of urban infrastructure have paid only little attention to African cities especially in terms of the specificity and distinctness of the socio-spatial and socio-technical conditions. The paper is based on an ongoing research (2013-2015) of the Technical Universities of Darmstadt and Dortmund, Germany in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and Accra.

Assumptions are: (1) African cities are to be seen as "ordinary cities" - as a subject of urban studies in their own rights (Robinson 2002), (2) socio-technical systems make up considerable portions of the material, economic and geopolitical fabric of contemporary cities (Graham 2000) and (3) circulating urban and technological ideals, engineering concepts and the corresponding planning principles are shaping urban systems (Hård/Misa 2008).

Special focus is on new and hybrid institutionalisations and materialities of African urban water regimes and the co-production of services through diverse forms of self-organisation and "non-grid" technologies. The paper will present preliminary findings for a broader discussion.

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Infrastructural dynamics of waste: the politics of knowledge in waste treatment in Greater Athens (Attiki)

Author: Yannis Kallianos (CRESC)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will examine waste treatment processes in Greater Athens (Attica), Greece with the objective to explore how knowledge about waste treatment is produced, contested and codified at different scales and contexts

Long Abstract

This paper examines urban waste treatment as a socio-technical and political practice that comes to define a cities' 'metabolism' and the ways in which people make sense and imagine their cities in the future during times of crisis. How is waste treatment a process that is mobilized at such times and, what are its particular effects? What, therefore, is the 'productivity' of waste and landfills in political, epistemological and moral discourses? How are ideas, values and practices of treating waste in Greater Athens shaping future expectations and the image of the city? Since 2010 — and in the context of the Greek socio-economic crisis — new actors and discourses have emerged in the field of waste treatment in Athens. An extended network of private and public stakeholders and actors has been created that, in the process of dealing with waste in the everyday, renegotiate ideas of danger, purity and dirt. In which way are existing knowledge hierarchies of waste treatment being reconsidered during this process? What other spaces and places may be produced in the course of this renegotiation? To what extent does waste treatment infrastructures enable distinctive forms of resistance and legitimacy to political power? Finally, considering the various uncertainties that define everyday life in Greece, what type of imaginaries concerning the future may emerge or be challenged around the politics of waste in Athens?

Spectres of water pipes: Kathmandu's imagination of a future without water scarcity

Author: Matthäus Rest (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History)  email

Short Abstract

Kathmandu’s Melamchi Water Supply Project is a spectral infrastructure. 40 years in the making, it is unclear whether this river diversion scheme will ever be completed. Still, it is exacerbating the city’s water scarcity in a state that at times seems as spectral as its infrastructure projects.

Long Abstract

Since the early 1970s, the residents of Kathmandu have been visited by a fantastic spectre: the Melamchi Water Supply Project. This scheme is a plan to divert the water of a river to the city in order to cure it from a chronic water shortage. Time and again, however, this spectre has proven impalpable, despite frequent announcements by the government and the ADB. One important outcome of this spectral infrastructure is a severe lack of funding for the maintenance of the existing water network; even official sources estimate 60% of leakage. Combined with the exponential growth of the city since the Maoist insurgency in 1996, this leads to a progressive privatization of water and water infrastructure. As people are provided with water of low quality for only two hours every other day during dry season, they have to store large quantities of it in rooftop tanks. At the same time, private providers of water supply a growing number of households.

My paper will argue that the lack of water poses a growing threat to political authority in Kathmandu as can be seen by daily protests in front of the headquarters of the city's water authorities. However, the fact that the state is as elusive as its unbuilt infrastructures leaves those protesting without a clear target: due to the Maoist uprising and the still uncompleted peace process Kathmandu has not had a mayor since 2002 while the newly established Republic of Nepal is still missing a constitution.

The pneumatic underground: memos from the retrofuture

Author: Anna Harris (Maastricht University)  email

Short Abstract

Pneumatic tubes, which transport matter in capsules by vacuum, tunnel their way through science fiction as well as networked institutions of the past, present and future. This paper examines the materials and practices of this infrastructure, especially the creative adjustments which make them work.

Long Abstract

Pneumatic tubes: George Jetson used them to get to work, Antoine Doinel to send a love letter, and the Ministry of Truth to deliver history needing rewriting. These hidden labyrinths of pipes which transport matter by vacuum not only exist in the dreams of cartoonists, filmmakers and science fiction writers, but also engineers of the technological past, present and future. Once traversing the undergrounds of cities for postal delivery or depositing orders on the stock exchange, pneumatic tube networks are nowadays ever increasingly built into the walls, ceilings and basements of hospitals, banks and supermarkets. For despite digitisation, objects still need to be moved from one place to another. Counter intuitively, unlike many technologies of the past, pneumatic tube infrastructures have both changed very little over time and are being used in more contexts than ever before. With this paper I take session participants on a short subterranean tour of the intertwined past, present and future of pneumatic tubes. I examine the materials of this sociotechnical system; plastic capsules, brass buttons and air through which things pass. I look at bodily practices entailed in the manufacture, architectural design, everyday use and repair of the technology, including the adjustments which go to making it work. In Stoic philosophy, pneuma is "breath of life", the active and creative presence in matter. A study of pneuma-tic systems leads to bigger questions of how to consider the "pneumatic qualities" of infrastructures, the creativity that breathes life into the material world we live in.

Imagining the Swedish cloud

Author: Asta Vonderau (Martin-Luther University Halle)  email

Short Abstract

This paper analyzes technological imaginations related to IT infrastructures, and it asks how the immaterial cloud materializes.

Long Abstract

In the metaphoric imagery commonly used to describe and explain the internet, the world wide web has been pictured as being immaterial and fluid, like an ocean to be navigated. The complex infrastructure and heavy industry securing the functionality of web services 'backstage' are seldomly part of popular imagination and remain, as technical infrastructure generally, part of an invisible deeper ecology. This paper presents preliminary findings of a research project on the environmental impact and cultural production of information infrastructure. It is based on empirical research conducted in Luleå, Northern Sweden, where Facebook opened its first and largest European data center in 2013 providing server cooling and storage facilities for user data from Europe, Africa, and the Near East. Spreading rapidly across the globe, data centers are understood to become "factories of the 21st century", signalling the advent of a new industrial era that comes with social and environmental changes. And indeed, it is mostly thanks to Facebook that Luleå has lately been globally in the news as a center of IT competence and data storage introducing the brand name, "The Node Pole". Ever since, the Facebook project has become key to this city's self image and a generator of collective and individual future visions. This paper aims to analyze these technological visions related to current infrastructural transformation in the city of Luleå, a place where the materiality and immateriality of the internet meet.

Intensive time: media, intuition, extinction

Author: Maria Jose de Abreu (Humboldt University, Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper makes the relation between media infrastructures of relaying and intensive time. Supported by ethnographic evidence, it argues that the efficacy of intensified time, enhanced by multiple forms of interconnected media, relies on an idea of extinction that alters our relation to the future.

Long Abstract

This paper explored the relationship between media infrastructures for sharing and relaying of information and the construction of intensive time. The paper argues that the production of intensified time, enhanced by multiple forms of interconnected media, relies on an idea of extinction that alters our relation to the future. Rather than calculable, the future is perceived as imminent: it casts a shadow on the present without actually presenting itself. Through the analysis of case studies on the role of media in the production of intense time, the paper conceptualizes the relation between technological infrastructures and temporal volatility. It shows how rather than just illustrators of events, the compression of capturing-time and real-time has turn media technologies into part of the phenomenon they mediate and describe.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.