Programme

(T108)
Urban STS and Post-Socialist Cities
Location 112a
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2

Convenor

  • Andrey Kuznetsov (Volgograd State University) email

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Discussant Tauri Tuvikene (Tallinn University)

Short Abstract

The purpose of the track is to bring together scholars from Eastern Europe and ex-USSR so as to discuss a state of art in STS research of Post-Socialist cities.

Long Abstract

STS is «conquering» not only new research fields (urban studies) but also new geographical territories (Post-Socialist countries). Both expansions imply theoretical as well as practical challenges for STS. The purpose of the track is to bring together scholars from Eastern Europe and ex-USSR so as to discuss a state of art in STS research of Post-Socialist cities. Firstly we would like to think over some general theoretical concerns that spring up at the intersection of STS and urban studies. How classical STS concepts and approaches should be modified while studying urban environment? What STS could suggest urban studies and vice versa? Does scholars still find the metaphor of assemblage theoretically productive?

Secondly participants are invited to discuss some challenges that are supposedly more peculiar to Post-Socialist world. What STS has to do (if at all) with Post-Socialism and Post-Socialist studies? Does Post-Socialist spaces, infrastructues, collectives constitute some theoretical or practical challenges for urban STS? While in the West mainstream critical urbanism is the main rival of STS, in many parts of Post-Socialist world it is still in nascent state. What are the prospects of STS in post-socialist countries in the absence of its main theoretical rival?

Finally participants are encouraged to bring their own concerns and questions on STS research of Post-Socialist cities.

SESSIONS: 5/4

This track is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

A Cure for the "Ideology Syndrome": or, how the study of socialist urbanity can benefit from assemblage thinking

Author: Diana Kurkovsky West (European University at St. Petersburg)  email

Short Abstract

This paper contends that the study of the Soviet built environment, - examined here through the lens of Soviet housing construction, - benefits from the optics offered to us by the field of science and technology studies (STS) and the approach to the study of cities informed by assemblage thinking.

Long Abstract

The notion of ideology is both a prominent and a problematic feature of scholarship on Soviet and post-Soviet urbanity. On the one hand, socialist symbols, planning agendas, and discourse, dominate the archival traces and inscriptions, as well as the material legacy of Soviet approach to urban planning, forcing researchers to contend with State-imposed agendas, rhetoric, and symbolism - elements which roughly make up what we describe as "ideology" as it becomes translated into the physical environment of the city. On the other hand, the idea of having a universal, centrally-implemented, dominant that defines the form and content for all aspects of life, sits uneasily with the postmodern and poststructuralist critiques, whose diverse intellectual agendas have offered powerful ammunition against universalizing notions and universal ideals.

This paper contends that the study of the Soviet built environment, - examined here through the lens of Soviet housing construction, - benefits from the optics offered to us by the field of science and technology studies (STS) and the approach to the study of cities informed by assemblage thinking. Undergirding a pragmatist position with regards to the study of the urban, this approach eschews generalizations and universalizing assumptions with regard to the urban condition in favor of heterogeneity and simultaneous singularity of each sociotechnical nexus. Additionally, my paper proposes that assemblage thinking itself is augmented through the study of the post-Socialist urbanity, as researches must learn to balance the perspective of heterogeneity and local specificity against the material DNA, and the recurring elements and codes, of Soviet building practices.

Mikroraion as a Sociotechnical Assemblage or Towards a History of Second World Materiality

Author: Daria Bocharnikova (St. Petersburg State University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss the heuristic advantages of STS tools for writing a history of Second World Materiality.

Long Abstract

In the last 10 years "rails, pipes and wires" became the main protagonists not only in the reports of bureaucrats' responsible for managing and maintaining diverse sociotechnical infrastructures in modern Russia (Khristenko, 2004) but also in the studies of post-socialist cities and societies (Collier, 2011; Kharkhordin and Alapuro, 2011). This paper seeks to examine this marriage of STS and post-socialism studies and to identify several productive directions for future research that allows to refashion how we think about socialist and post-socialist cities. In particular, I will demonstrate how conceiving of mikroraion -Soviet superblock of 5000-15000 inhabitants often seen as the most typical urban form of the Second World - as a complex sociotechnical assemblage allows to ask original research questions and revisit some of the basic assumptions about (post- )socialist urbanity. Overall, I will argue that this methodological shift facilitates tracing how sociotechnical systems programmed in line with ideals of socialist egalitarianism and state paternalism work under the new market imperatives of competition and efficiency and to theorize the sticky nature of Socialist materiality in today's Russia. In simple words, it helps to reveal the work of materiality in the times of transition, as well as highlight its ambiguity. In addition, the focus on the script and de-scription of sociotechnical networks allows to cross the periodization boundaries of political history and to explore the resilient lives of different Second World infrastructures before and after 1991, opening up a new way of writing the history of Second World Materiality.

Re-forming Heating System of Russian Cities: People and Material Infrastructure

Author: Evgeniya Popova (Tomsk State University)  email

Short Abstract

A setting of Soviet society (with its principles of universalism and collectivism) was built in the design of urban networks around Russia. I show empirical examples about transformation of heating supply from point of setting of the Soviet culture embodied in technologies.

Long Abstract

For most analysts of administration of Russian municipal sector the implementation process evolves in 'materially free' environment where the "right" new technologies can successfully "teach" consumers to live in a democratic pro-market society. Focusing on financial requirements, they neglect several things including: (1) the everyday usage of technology in post-Soviet conditions, (2) the interactions of new technology with old elements of the network, and (3) the overall effect of new technology on the implementation of democratic and market policies across Russian cities. Most studies do not account for fact that technological innovations were introduced in the field with the already existing scripts of consumers' behavior and experts' power. How did old technologies that promoted collective use interact with the new equipment that encourages individual consumption? What are implications of such a conflict for urban development in Russia? In the case of housing and urban technologies in current Russia, a setting of Soviet society (with its principles of universalism and collectivism) was built in the design of urban networks around the country. I intend to make reinterpretation of empirical sources about heating supply in Russia from point of setting of the Soviet culture embodied in technologies. I will look at the transformation of heating system in terms of water leak flow, disbalance of organisational and technical infrastructures.

(Re)Thinking city through culture: technology, identity and urban cultural development in Siberian regions

Author: Dmitry Galkin (Tomsk State University)  email

Short Abstract

Focus of this research is the way urban and regional policy makers in Siberian cities conceptualize cultural development in relation to the role technological systems should play in these strategies (formalized in current days official strategic documents of Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Tyumen regions).

Long Abstract

Focus of this research is the way urban and regional policy makers in Siberian cities conceptualize cultural development in relation to the role technological systems should play in these strategies (formalized in current days official strategic documents of Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Tyumen regions). Our starting point is macro-level application of SCOT approach to discourses of policy-makers applied in agenda setting and resource allocation for urban cultural development. Through what concepts and arguments strategic meaning of modern technology is legitimized in field of city culture? How technological "hardware" of the city is understood and used for "downloading" cultural "software"? We analyze value statements ("quality of life", "traditional values", "cultural rights and participation" etc.) and discourses (culture, economy and creative industries, postindustrial society, sociology of creative class etc.) used to legitimize the role technology should play in urban cultural development. One critical idea we discuss is misconception of city culture as an artistic field (cultural "software") disconnected from the complexity of city as technological system (is transportation and mobility out of cultural production?). And if we switch from naïve SCOT perspective to ANT, would it help to re-conceptualize urban cultural development? We discuss contribution of STS perspectives to urban cultural policy making.

Urban Justice in Western and Post-Soviet Cities: Some Theoretical Remarks

Author: Evgenii Karchagin (Volgograd State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses objects, subjects and possible principles of justice in the urban context. It also outlines two practical ways to overcome injustice in western and Post-Soviet Cities: revolutionary and communicative, theoretically represented by critical urbanism and STS.

Long Abstract

The paper discusses several theoretical aspects of the study of urban justice in western and Post-Soviet Cities. Urban justice seems to measure the proper order of social benefits and burdens in urban context. Objects of justice are benefits and burdens that circulate in the urban communities (the City itself, public space, urban toponymes, housing, transport infrastructure, etc.) There can be different situations of injustice, involving different human and non-human actors, and different subjects of urban justice (municipal authorities, citizens, civil society organizations and social movements, developers, investors, and others). According to the principle of fairness (equity and impartiality, required to accept the same right to life and well-being, which is recognized by each of oneself) the voices of these subjects should be equally considered in the development and decision-making, relating to the city's major problems. This general principle of fairness in the urban context gets the new meaning as the «right to the City». If there is domination by part of the voices, the disadvantaged subjects can feel the injustice of the situation. City officials are not the only subjects of justice in the urban space. The decisions of the authorities can be evaluated and criticized by those who are the recipients of these decisions - the ordinary citizens. There are two main practical ways to overcome the injustice, most clearly formulated in contemporary academic literature: revolutionary (neo-Marxist) and communicative, theoretically represented by critical urbanism and STS with its notion of urban assemblages.

Mobile and Material Semiotics of Post-Soviet Mobilities: Opportunities and Inequalities in Flexible Urban Public Transport (case of Volgograd)

Author: Andrey Kuznetsov (Volgograd State University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper combines material semiotics (B. Latour) and mobile semiotics (O. Jensen) approaches to account for sociotechnical dynamics of fexible public transport in post-Soviet Russia and to show how different patterns of delegation generate various level of uncertainty within the scenarious of use.

Long Abstract

It goes without saying that post-Soviet cities have dramatically changed in last 25 years. Although the changes have affected literaly all areas of city life, the most visible and obvious they are in urban transport systems. On the one hand rapid automobilisation radically transformed urban spaces and mobile practices in post-Soviet cities traditionally oriented towards public urban transportation (PUT). On the other hand PUT itself have vastly transformed in post-Soviet era.

State owned and formalized PUT modes were supplemented and in many cases substituted with marshrutkas - privately owned and in many ways informal PUT. Marshrutkas are the form of urban paratransit that is a PUT mode which shows flexibility in respect of route and/or timetable, and/or fare, in contrast to convetional modes (such as bus or rail) which are usually inflexible in all three aspects. However, flexibilty of paratransit brings with itself a high level of uncertainty in the usage of PUT. Drawing on the material semiotics approach (B. Latour) I will reconstruct the sociotechnical dynamics of post-Soviet marshrutkas in Volgograd and show how different patterns of delegation generate various level of uncertainty within the scenarious of use of PUT. Drawing on mobile semiotic approach (O. Jensen) I will also show how different users manage and use these uncertainties in trying to understand «what is going on around here». In conclusion I will think about how these two approaches could benefit from each other in studying old and new opportunities, constraints and inequalities in post-socialist urban assemblages (I. Farias).

Assembling transportation in the Post-Socialist city - the case of Belgrade

Author: Ivana Suboticki (Norwegian Uni. for Science and Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the contributions of STS, in particular an ANT approach with emphasis on acts of assembling, to the study of transportation systems in the Post-Socialist context based on findings from Belgrade.

Long Abstract

Reform processes facing former socialist regimes are often described as all-encompassing transitions, touching all spheres of political, economic and social life. Post-Socialist cities and their urban landscapes are no exception. They are viewed as sites of transition, where large-scale reforms are influencing both the materiality and organization of the city. Yet, the question of how these changes are enacted and accounted for through daily practices are often on the margins of inquiry. Structuralist approaches have dominated studies of reform, overlooking the heterogeneous hybrid of actors (human and non-human) and the ways in which they are co-produced in the shaping of cities. Therefore, this paper asks: What can an STS-inspired focus on actors and agency in governance and planning urban environments contribute of valuable insights for grasping post-socialist challenges of cities?

In order to open up the black box of the ¨Post-Socialist city', I study urban transportation systems by focusing on them as socio-technical assemblages, inquiring into assembling and re-assembling processes. My data consists of interviews with transport planners from different transport units in Belgrade, Serbia. Here, I explore who the main transitions actors are, and how they negotiate and account for changing priorities, knowledges and relations in their work. The paper concludes with some critical reflections on both the theoretical approach and the method used to study the post-socialist context of the city.

Human and non-human infrastructures of fare payment in post-soviet public transport

Author: Denis Sivkov (RANEPA, Volgograd branch)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographical observations in the urban public transportation trace different practices of the fare payment on the move. The study explicates some variables in order to deconstruct the cashflow process in the post-soviet urban marshrutkas.

Long Abstract

There are different practices and technologies of the fare payment process in the post-soviet urban public transportation. This process involves individual and/or communal calculation and passing from a passenger to a driver and back. The practice of a fair payment "on the move" represents a form of delegation to a person or a thing: busman, validator, another passenger or chain of passengers, etc. The presentation is devoted to the study of human and non-human infrastructures of the fare payment process in the post-soviet public transportation. The study focuses on marshrutkas (shared taxi) in regional Russian city - Volgograd. Dense space of marshrutka (neither public nor intimate) creates a high degree of uncertainty, where passengers and a driver should construct social order in a concrete situation «from below». Different human and non-human actors affect passengers' activity during the fare payment process. One person can use different ways of fare payment during his or her transit. Why do passengers prefer a certain practice in concrete situations? To answer this question, I attempt to explicate some variables in order to deconstruct the cashflow process in the post-soviet urban marshrutkas. The study is based on the observations in marshrutkas and interviews with drivers and passengers.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.