By Yannis Kallianos & Dimitris Dalakoglou
Imagination is an essential aspect of the experience of infrastructure. Imagining infrastructures has proven to be as important as the actual material state of these objects, systems, and networks. Imagination and infrastructures are so closely linked that Adeline Masquelier (2002) employed the term ‘mythography’ in order to talk about the ways in which local communities in Africa imagined the new roads. Even at the heart of North-Western Europe, ethnographic findings have led the ethnographer to invent the concept of ‘imagineering’, combining engineering and imagination in order to talk about new infrastructural (im)materialities between Denmark and Sweden (Löfgren 2004). South Eastern Europe is no exception to that rule as highways, for example, along the Albanian-Greek borders facilitate the international flows, but also the local and the official state-run imagination (Dalakoglou 2009; 2010).
In this discussion Arjun Appadurai’s (1996: 31) view on imagination as a collective process that is founded on the everyday experience as a ‘culturally organized practice’ is instructive. According to Appadurai (1996: 31), imagination ‘is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order.’ It can then be argued that the imaginary is closely related to morality, since it entails the question of how to live together in society. This is particularly relevant to our argument that touches upon the idea that past and present politics of infrastructure, as well as sociotechnical imaginaries of future forms of infrastructural technology, reflect ideas and meanings of how people make sense of their position in the social field. This is as much a collective process as a public one. Stemming from the position put forward by Alev Çinar and Thomas Bender (2007: xiii) who argue that ‘the making of a collective imagination is a public process’, moreover the formation of infrastructural imagination to pass through various different operations, from the legal and the institutional to the cultural and the violent.
It is for this reason that our examination of the infrastructural codifications of civic engagement in times of crisis entails the use of infrastructure as our concrete epistemological basis through which the current crisis can be explored. What does it mean, then, to approach the crisis infrastructurally? In infra-demos, we engage with this inquiry through the notion of ‘disjunctive modernization’. As we have argued elsewhere, in the case of the waste management of Athens (Dalakoglou and Kallianos 2014), the great majority of Athenians have no idea what happens in the landfills to which their rubbish goes. This is completely contrary to the experience of those in the Fylis region who live next to the facilities; here, their everyday life is defined by what Paul Dourish and Genevieve Bell (2007: 416) call the ‘infrastructure of experience’, the ways in which infrastructure re-emerges as a visible component based on ‘our increasing dependence upon it for the practice of everyday life’. Similarly, experiencing the effects of the invisible infrastructural dimensions, such as buried pipelines and cables, the remote or hidden aerials etc., is often also made sense of through imagination rather than actual direct tangible experience. What is already well established is that when infrastructures break down or pause or act disorderly their presence – including their invisible elements – is sensed via the discontinuity and disruption of the flows that they are supposed to deliver (Humphrey 2003; Star 1999; Graham and Thrift 2007; Graham 2010).
Thus, the implication of our previous work (Dalakoglou & Kallianos 2014; Dalakoglou 2017) and of the current project is that even when people come into contact with the infrastructural materiality, or the potentiality of such materiality, imagination still plays a major role in the ways that people know, engage, and understand infrastructures. What has taken place in the times of crisis, then, is the unraveling of Greece’s ‘disjunctive modernity’ – generated by the selective infrastructure development to employ neoliberal economic policies and an assembly of crypto-colonial regimes (Herzfeld 2002), which have come together to shape the everyday urban infrastructure experience. Though diverse, the cases examined in infra-demos, share a common imbuement of infrastructure processes with imaginary potential to organize meaning around everyday experiences. In light of this, the social performance of ‘disjunctiveness’, as is conveyed through the popular discourses examined in our project reflect imaginations concerning notions of citizenship, political participation, and the state, as well as, unveil ways in which these are negotiated, experienced, moralized and normalized – or not. Such rhetorical schemes, which point out critical fissures and contradictions, act as powerful urban and infrastructural pedagogies, not necessarily of either trust or distrust of the ‘system’, but in ascribing meaning to and performing, in other respects, elusive and ‘abstract’ top-down processes of ‘how things work’, which, here, should not be considered just an empty rhetoric devoid of hope, but rather, a tool of positioning in the social field.
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