Infra-demos made two important public appearances this month. On the 2nd of February it was hosted by Transmediale, one of the most important arts & digital culture festivals in Europe. And on Saturday 9th it was a quest at the 1st radio programme of ERT, the national Greek broadcaster. In both cases Christos Giovanopoulos, the PhD researcher of Infra-demos, was invited and represented infra-demos talking about the solidarity movement and the research he carries out on solidarity infrastructure in Greece.
In Transmediale with ‘Under These Words”, a Athens’ solidarity documentary
Transmediale is one of the most renowned annual festival of digital media and visual arts. It started as an offshoot of Berlinale in 1988 aiming to accommodate electronic film and video productions. Since then Transmediale represents the emerging landscape in audio-visual arts and digital media, complementing the more classic program and celebration of the 7th art and the silver screen by Berlinale. This is why it is held as an entry to the later, just one week prior to the main film festival.
This year’s Transmedialefocused on ‘Affective Infrastructures’; “on how feelings are made into objects of technological design…” as its program states. The key question the festival asked was: “‘What moves you?’, referring not only to an emotional response but also to the infrastructures and aesthetics that govern how affect becomes mobilized as a political force today”. And more specifically it asked: “What motivates social engagement and how can new forms of care and solidarity be developed and embodied?” Issues that lie at the heart of Infrademos’ research on solidarity infrastructures.
Among a variety of exhibitions, screenings, workshops and public debates Robin Vanbesien’s film Under These Words – Solidarity Athens 2016was chosen to be screened and presented in a Q&A session by the director and Christos Giovanopoulos of Infrademos. The latter, both appears in this docu-drama and he assisted in its production. The film follows 3 actors, starting from their reflections on “what is crisis”, as they move in the city of Athens visiting five self-organised solidarity structures. As various solidarity activists talk about their endeavors and struggles, the issue moves from the crisis to the solidarity as a transfigurative response to the former. In that sense, the actors’ initial contemplation on the crisis is replaced by the activists’ concrete efforts to substantiate and envision a world based on solidarity.
The ‘thick-research’ that facilitated the creative process of the film-making led Robin Vanbesien, the filmmaker, to publish “Solidarity Poiesis: I will come and steal you”(2017). A booklet which collects activists’ reflections and theorists’ conceptualisations in a quest for an updated notion of solidarity, based on its emergent traits against the historically defined modes and perception of this term.
Both the reality on the ground and the concepts that those solidarity practices inform, as they appeared in Greece, was the main focus of the Q&A session that followed the screening of “Under These Words”.In addition, issues regarding the aesthetics and representation politics of solidarity were also raised. The session was chaired by Briggite Kuster, who interrogated Robin Vanbesien and Christos Giovanopoulos. The warming up questions were followed by audience’s interventions that revealed both the potential and emergency of solidarity - as notion and as specific post-crisis and post-capitalist paradigm – against the rise of racism and far right nationalism in Europe. However, it also raised concerns that critically crosscut the concept of solidarity against both the rise of neo-fascism - with its various ethno-tribal underpinnings of the term - and the institutionalized evocations of solidarity by dominant political forces and discourses - which bear the bulk of responsibility in undermining the foundations of solidarity (and social welfare) among the lower classes, local and/or not, leading to their fragmentation and infighting.
Interestingly, what occurred from the debate, was the need for a notion of a ‘fighting solidarity’. The sociologists Oosterlynck and Bouchaute (2013) in reviewing the various theoretical approaches to solidarity, make a worth noting claim. They suggest that the only theoretical strand of solidarity, as the term has been firstly negotiated in the 19thcentury, which has not been updated with a modern version in the (late indeed) 20thcentury, has been this of the ‘solidarity as social struggle’ (represented by Marx’s and Weber’s take on solidarity in the 19thcentury). What is striking is not so much that the Greek example of solidarity seems to regenerate a paradigm of this missing concept of a ‘fighting solidarity’. It is rather that the participants in Transmediale’s event highlighted the luck of – and therefore the need for - an updated understanding of solidarity as both a mutual, inclusive and militant social practice against structural, institutional and everyday injustices. The debate was of course informed also by the fears and dystopic future generated by the German (and not only) political context. Which only underlines the importance of emerging participatory infrastructures of a ‘fighting solidarity’ as means and hotbeds of a tangible hope and social vision.
‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’
Thus titled the weekly radio program held by the Social Metropolitan Clinic of Hellinikon (MKIE) each Saturday on the 1st programme of ERT, the national broadcaster of Greece, which hosted infra-demos’ researcher Christos Giovanopoulos on the 9thof February.
ERT became known in 2013 when the then pro-Troika and austerity coalition (conservatives, social-democrats and euroleftist) government decided to shut it down, out of the blue. The instant mobilisation and occupation of the broadcaster’s headquarters and main studios, by dozens of thousands of people constitute one of the most remarkable moments of the popular resistance to the imposed neoliberal memoranda in Greece. During this fight, which carried on until the reestablishment of ERT as the national state broadcaster in 2015, both the TV and the radio services of ERT broadcasted under the self-management of their staff. ERT, thus represents also one of the fiercest and innovative infrastructural contestation occurred in Greece the previous years of the crisis.
At the same time MKIE was the first solidarity clinic to be set in Athens. It was an offspring of the Syntagma sq. occupation, in the summer of 2011, and the fight, led by the radical left mayor of the area Kortzidis, against the privatisation of the old airport and US military base. In this context the local council provided for free premises previously belonging to the defunct airport to the solidarity clinic, as it also did to other citizen self-organised structures (Dalakoglou, 2017).
So the radio-program ‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’ is the outcome of these innovative radicalization of social contestation with emphasis on participation and self-management. Each Saturday at 2 pm the MKIE and the ‘Social Kitchen: The Other Man” produce an hourly program presenting the latest on the solidarity movement and other social struggles. The program hosted Infrademos’ researcher Christos Giovanopoulos and OpenLab researcher Vassilis Vlachokyriakos in a joint presentation of some first research findings with the Oral History Group of MKIE.
Infrademos’ interrogation of the infrastructuring capacities of the solidarity structures in Greece, follows a participatory action research method. In this framework it participates, among others, in the Oral History Group of the MKIE; which aims to document the history and experience of the solidarity group in a participatory collective way. This has been a way the assembly of MKIE decided, as a tool to detect and design the future potential of MKIE based on its own knowledge and capacities. In this frame, researchers and MKIE members together composed the questionnaires and all were trained by the Athens’ Oral History group on the technical requirements for oral history interviews and documentation.
Hence, during the radio program some first examples of the gathered material was presented in raw format. The extracts were chosen by the two researchers and by Petros Boteas, MKIE activist and producer/presenter of ‘Solidarity on the Airwaves’, and they represented a small example out of 17 interviews taken so far (podcast). The solidarity activists’ interviewees provided beyond their personal trajectories, their opinion on matters such as what constitutes solidarity, hierarchy & horizontal structures of organising, the transformative nature of health practices of the MKIE, the future and the limitations of the solidarity clinics.
The whole process, besides representing an example of collective reflection, it underlines the potential embedded in the sociality and habitus produced by the self-organised solidarity structures for participatory infrastructuring and knowledge production.
Dalakoglou, D. (2017) Infrastructural Gap. City vol 20(6)
Oosterlynck, Stijn & Van Bouchaute, Bart, 2013, Social Solidarities: The search for solidarity in sociology, Diversiteit & Gemeenschapsvorming (DieGem), retrieved on 13.12.2018 from
Vanbesien, Robin (ed.), 2017, Solidarity Poiesis: I will come and steal you, Berlin: b-books & Ghent: MER & Brussels: SARMA & timely.
ISCTE-IUL 2018 conference, titled 'Envisioning sustainable and post-capitalist futures' was held n Lisbon, between 21-23 November. Infra-demos was there with the paper “From grassroots solidarity structures to infrastructures of commons” presented by the infra-demos PhD researcher Christos Giovanopoulos.
The conference was dedicated to “Social Solidarity Economy and the Commons”, as the frame to imagine and develop post-capitalist forms of sharing, working and living. Among its objectives was to document the diverse “alternatives to the socio-economic status quo” developed through the crisis “by mobilizing endogenous practices, institutions and resources and networking among grassroots initiatives”. It also aimed “to respond to challenges that have arisen from recent research on forms of shared governance between the state, the market and the third sector”.
Thus, it hosted contributions by various actors, from academics and researchers to activists and institutional representatives, in order to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and debates on cross-national level. Fitting with this framing it welcomed experiences and theoretical contributions “guided by an action research strategy” for movements and policy design on Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) and the Commons. Particular attention was given to issues of community building and the deepening of democratic practices, of shared governance strategies and the management of commons, of participatory governance schemes and grassroots socioeconomic dynamics.
The over 60 papers that composed the conference program reflected the wide range of movements, organizing methods, infrastructures, solidarity practices, cooperative economies and institutional formats that have emerged in the recent period. In addition, important networks of the cooperative and social solidarity economies shared their experiences and knowledge produced on the ground in round tables. Among those who provided insights and raised issues and questions regarding the direction of SSE and the Commons, were representatives from the Associaciao Mutualista Montepio, from the Global Ecovillage Network, from Cooperativa Integral Catalana, from P2P Foundation, from the global network RIPESS and from the Catalan cooperative network Coop 57.
If anything Infra-demos felt like home in this environment. The novel socio-technical relations, challenges and tensions among various agencies (movements, communities, state and the market) constitute the core field of infra-demos’ interrogation in regard with the participatory infrastructural capacities fostered in such emerging terrain. The input of infrademos in the conference resonated and discussed with other takes on the matter that were focusing on the transfigurative role and potential for sustainability of such post-capitalist alternartives.
More precisely the paper of Christos Giovanopoulos focused on the experience of the medicine (collection-redistribution and) re-use campaign of the solidarity clinics in Greece. Based on findings from pilot research on the pharmacy of the Metropolitan Social Clinic of Hellinikon, the paper attempted to outline a. the ways in which solidarity structures constitute alternative social infrastructure and b. the process of commoning fostered by such redistributive practice of medicine.
The latter axis touched on the ability of such cooperative practice of medicine sharing as a process of transition from perceiving medicine as a “public good” to understanding it as “common good”. Regarding the former, emphasis was given to the “right to infrastructure” (Corsín Jiménez, 2014) that the solidarity collectives exercise, in combination with their ability to constitute their autonomous subjectivities, spaces and (importantly) mediums (Kioupkiolis, 2016) that enable the development of post-capitalist solidarity economies and processes of commoning. Moreover, by outlining the variety of actors and scales involved in the medicine re-use campaign, which span from individuals and grassroots collectives to institutional entities and from local to national to cross-national levels, the issue of their infrastructural capacity was explored.
In this framework the socio-technical relations involved in such infrastructuring endeavor, were examined. One of the findings presented is the correspondence between organizational models (e.g. network society – Castells, 2000) and distributive practices (e.g. P2P, Bauwens-Kostakis, 201??) that have emerged on the digital domain of ICT and the cooperative practices developed by low-fi movements, such as the self-organised solidarity clinics, in the physical realm. This co-relation and synchronicity opens up new avenues of research of transformative practices that develop their own transfigurative social paradigm beyond the transition from corporate capitalism and centralized models to platform capitalism and the “sharing economy”.
Bauwens M. & Kostakis V. (2014). From the Communism of Capital to Capital for the Commons: Towards an Open Co-operativism. TripleC 12(1): 356-361.
Castells M. (2000) The Rise of the Network Society. Second Edition. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing
Corsín Jiménez, A. (2014) The right to infrastructure: a prototype for open source urbanism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 32, 342–362
Kioupkiolis A. (2016) The Commons and Hegemony: Alternative Politics at the Onset of the 21st Century, In: Kotionis Z. & Barkouta Y. (eds). Practices of Urban Solidarity. Volos, University of Thessaly Press, pp. 20-35.
In May 2018 took place in the Netherlands Institute of Athens the first seminar of infra-demos.net together with AbdouMaliq Simone and Lila Leontidou we discussed about infrastructural gap and the commons. Below follow some reflections on the discussion.
When in 1996 Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder posed the question ‘when is an infrastructure?’, in their article ‘Steps towards an ecology of infrastructure’, they’ paid particular attention to the spatio-temporal aspect of infrastructure, which considers that a socio-political examination of infrastructure should seriously address questions of scale and context in relation to everyday organized practices. With this in mind when we ask what are the features that define the infrastructural gap of our time we should also consider the various scales and the diverse contexts in which such a gap becomes transparent, and thus, the different manners in which this gapis experienced, materialized, perceived and embodied. Seen from this perspective, the diverse ways in which normative understandings of infrastructure have been challenged in times of crisis hold a critical ethnographic value. They reflect how our everyday relation to infrastructure space and services embodies certain ways of making sense of our position in the social field. The following question then emerges: to what extent a break away from established relations of power also implies a completely different kind of infrastructure engagement and participation?
The discussion that took place during the InfraDemos seminar touched upon these problematics, and the whenof infrastructure, as a way to approach the various implications and effects of the infrastructural gap in relation to urban governance strategies in times of crisis, and the emergence of a politics of commons intertwined with socio-technical innovation. The infrastructural gap (IG) has been defined as the difficulty of the state and private sector to sustain infrastructural networks (Dalakoglou 2017), a condition which emerged in the West after the rupture of the 2008 crisis. The seminar engaged with this problem and attempted to shed light to the different manners of infrastructural and urban relations that emerge in condition of everyday uncertainty, rupture and change.
The discussion that took place during the seminar pointed out two main axes through which this infrastructure condition can be approached. First, infrastructure contestation was examined, mostly in the context of the Greek crisis. Such events of confrontation and challenge indicate that infrastructure space has become an important site of public engagement and participation. Lila Leontidou examined historical and socio-geographical aspects of the infrastructure gap in Greece and argued that the demand for the ‘right to the city’ has played a major role during the mobilizations of infrastructure contestation. These events also exemplify the ways in which political relations of power as well as social biases have been historically embedded in the design and development of infrastructure systems In this context, Leontidou explained how the interweaving of commoning practices, urban space and the reinvention of the city has been brought to the forefront by the infrastructural gap.
The infrastructural gap, however, has also been related to novel ways of socio-technical engagement. Dimitris Dalakoglou (2017), by posing the question of how the socio-cultural superstructure can create novel forms of infrastructure, considers these practices to reflect a generalized disobedience in Greece since 2010, which for him, has been codified and expressed through infrastructure. AbdouMalique Simone discussed the multifarious ways in which the interweaving between the technological, the social, the cultural and the discursive plays out in Delhi and Jakarta. For Simone, these everyday practices of urban relationality are mobilized through a constant process of ‘re-calibration’ and ‘measure’, which shapes the urban rhythm. The everyday politics of infrastructure space refer, then, to a relation which is both stable and malleable.
These analytical perspectives that touch upon the relation between urban space, contestation, uncertainty, governance, and the commons help us address the problem of what the infrastructural condition entails today. Hence, they provide assistance in order to pose important questions in our attempt to anthropologically examine the infrastructural modalities of the crisisof our time. What kind of new infrastructure arrangements are formed in the context of this infrastructural gap? How does the concept and codification of infrastructure changes when different kinds of civic engagement are being practised and mobilized? We see these questions, which work here as a guide in our exploration of infrastructure, to be in close dialogue with the spatio-temporal dimension of such socio-technical systems. The whenof infrastructure allows us to examine urban relationality across diverse contexts and scales. It offer us a way to look at the (inter)connections and movements but also the interruptions and stasis that co-shape the infrastructure dynamic.
Dalakoglou Dimitris (2017) Infrastructural gap: Commons, state and anthropology. City20(6): 822–831.
Star, Susan Leigh, and Karen Ruhleder (1996) Steps Toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Design and Access for Large Information Spaces. Information Systems Research7(1): 111–134.
By Christos Giovanopoulos,
infra-demos member &
PhD candidate in Anthropology,
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
The latest version of CommonsFest in Heraklion, Crete (Greece) took place on the weekend of 30 & 31 March and 1 April. infra-demos took active part in the organization and funding of the festival.
CommonsFest has been an annual action to promote open source knowledge and P2P cooperation for the development and management of the commons that runs since 2013.This year the three-day event focused on the creation of common(s) structures for the advancement and support of sustainable cooperative schemes and enterprises. The meeting aimed to detect and display the potentialities of the cooperative model of work as a viable form of professional enterprise. One that combines the inclusion of everyone in the labor market without exclusions while it develops a model of democratic self-management and producers’ autosuggestion.
A diverse eco-system
More than twenty-two collectives active on the field of cooperative and solidarity economy and the commons throughout Greece presented their work (full programme) manifesting a vibrant and advancing activity in a wide range of fields, from digital technology to agriculture. Cooperative schemes such as Ο.Σ.Η. (Integral Cooperative of Heraklion), Terra Verde and Fruits of Solidarity presented their work on developing unmediated (producer to consumer) networks of food distribution, both on a local and on cross-national levels.
C-Hub Athens and common/space presented their efforts to address issues as housing and the production of urban infrastructures and space as commons and through participatory practices, while the Elektra Energy cooperative spoke of their work on assisting the creation of energy (users’) communities. In addition the, pioneering and well known, Sarantaporo.gr updated on their autonomous wireless communication network (going since 2013) that brought internet connection to the residents of 11 isolated from the grid villages in the mountainous Sarantaporo area of Elassona (central Greece). One also has to underline the presence of Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών (Newpaper of its Writers), the only cooperative daily paper in Greece with national distribution, which runs since 2012.
Of course, in such a meeting significant it was the presence of numerous tech-cooperatives and hacker communities in Greece. Collectives which have been in the frontline of promoting and producing open source tools for more than a decade, and younger ones’ created in the period of the crisis. The makerspace Commonslab has been one of the initiators and hosts of CommonsFest in Heraklion where it is based. Hackerspace has been another significant community in open source technologies in Greece and internationally, which participated along with other cooperatives such as the open.tech, foss.office, Στην πρίζα (translates “in the socket”) and Sociality.
Last but not least a variety of research projects related with the development of digital open source and participatory infrastructures complete the picture of the participants. Infra-demos was one of those projects next to the internationally established P2P Lab, to Newcastle university related Open-Lab Athens and to the Zurich based non-profit research group NetHood.
CommonsFest by bringing together practitioners, activists, researchers and communities on the fields of open source technologies, cooperativism, solidarity economy and the commons, managed for one more year to become a creative and inspiring hub. However, this year the occurring knowledge exchange and collaborative atmosphere had some tangible results. In the framework of CommonsFest a parallel process for the creation of a Collaboration for Open Technologies took place, with the participation of 9 collectives, Infra-demos among them.
The outcome has been a first public statement regarding the will and objectives of this ongoing process. Those are discerned in two pillars. The first relates to the development of a collaborative network among tech-cooperatives in order a. to upgrade their operational capacities aiming to enhance their sustainability and b. to develop and promote more efficiently open source and collaborative mode of technologies among the social solidarity economy entities. The second regards the creation of research actions and collaborations for the advance of the urban movements, cooperative forms of economy and (practices and infrastructures of) the commons.
The entire process manifests the potential for the emergence of participatory and collaborative modes of techno-social infrastructures which infra-demos tries to bring to light. Moreover, by being organic part of these developments infra-demos practices from the outset an engaged and participatory research methodology, as a constituent element for/of the design of open to citizens and communities (needs and skills) infrastructuring and infrastructural transformation.
By Dimitris Dalakoglou & Yannis Kallianos
Anthropology touched upon infrastructures and their theoretical potentialities for the discipline in the 1960s and 1970s (Harris 1968; Godelier et al. 1978). Although the anthropological approach to infrastructures has always been distinct, these first infrastructural perspectives still drew upon the classical materialist social theory. As a result of this genealogy, infrastructures have commonly been considered, within social sciences, to be primarily connected to the material, economic and political spheres, rather than to the social one. This ‘anti-social’ understanding is reflected in ideas about infrastructures as stable and neutral technological systems leading to an everyday experienced normality that is so prevalent in the European infrastructural ideal. However, what the ethnographic approaches to infrastructures of recent years are showing is that if such ideas are ever relevant, they are mostly relevant in very few contexts, usually among the privileged global classes or in places with explicit infrastructural fetishism like post-socialist frameworks (Simone 2004; Edwards 2003; Larkin; Dalakoglou and Harvey 2014). In places where people are experiencing disruptions in infrastructural networks, infrastructures are much more ‘visible’ and are perceived as social and much less neutral technological elements (Dalakoglou 2009; Chu 2014; Dalakoglou and Kallianos 2014).
At the other end, more recent work suggests that lack of reliability is always embedded in infrastructures (Dalakoglou 2009; Soppelsa 2009), yet it often just becomes more apparent during times of crisis. The fragility that characterizes infrastructures is also reflected when, for example, one studies ethnographically the people behind the production of infrastructures, such as engineers, as they almost always take the unreliability of infrastructures as a given element of the process (Harvey and Knox 2011). Indeed, one could argue that such practices could potentially simply be ‘black-boxing’ by experts and specialists in an antagonistic relationship between technology practitioners and politicians on the one side, and common people on the other (Star and Bowker 2006). However, these roles of expertise might be imaginary, as it is not a rare phenomenon for the experts to be absent from the actual production and daily function of infrastructure systems, which instead function thanks to the work of mundane low-rank, skilled or unskilled agents (Dalakoglou and Kallianos 2014; Dalakoglou and Kallianos. Forthcoming).
All the above echoes a relatively banal but relevant statement: infrastructures are socio-technologicalelements that tend to embody ‘congealed social interests’ (Graham and Marvin 2001; Graham 2010). Although it is a cliché, if this statement becomes a parameter for the approach of IG, a unique window to a major theoretical paradigm shift is opened. Within this context—to put it schematically—soft and hard infrastructures do not produce socio-cultural superstructures, but socio-cultural superstructure produces infrastructural formations. So what are primarily social processes such as sharing, peer-to-peer production, ideas of the commons and solidarity are becoming the new force behind the organization and function of novel forms of infrastructures. Nevertheless, things are complicated. Such an approach to an extent attempts to turn the classical materialist scheme on its head, and opens up a series of very crucial questions that need to be answered. For instance, what are the relationships between soft and hard infrastructures under current circumstances, and what can we potentially learn about covering the IG of hard infrastructures by the way that soft IG is covered? This also opens up to potentialities of a new radically different definition of infrastructures which needs to study and take into account at least two parameters which mutate infrastructure during the crisis in Europe: first, as realms of social and political contestation—with a focus on hard infrastructures within the context of crisis, economic meltdown and political implosion; and second, as sites of socio-technological innovation with the potentiality of articulating new and alternative governance and socio-economic networks focusing on grassroots structures and self-organized initiatives. For the first time in recent Western history, we are also witnessing the pragmatic and theoretical potential of infrastructures not only to be run by the people themselves, but to become a new type of socio-centric, socio-technological hybrid forums and agoras (Callon, Lascoume, and Barthes 2001).
Callon, Michel, Pierre Lascoumes, and Yannick Barthe. 2009. Acting in an Uncertain World:
An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Chu, Julie Y. 2014. "When Infrastructures Attack: The Workings of Disrepair in
China." American Ethnologist 41(2): 351-367.
Dalakoglou, Dimitris. 2009. An Anthropology of the Road. PhD thesis, University of London
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Stasis in Athens of the Crisis." City 18(4-5): 526-532. doi:
Dalakoglou, Dimitris., and Yannis Kallianos. Forthcoming. “Rethinking Infrastructures.” Article
Edwards, Paul N. 2003. “Infrastructure and Modernity: Force, Time and Social Organization
in the History of Sociotechnical Systems.” In Modernity and Technology, eds. Thomas
J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg, pp. 185-225. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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and Zoltán Tagányi. 1978. "Infrastructures, Societies, and History [and
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Graham, Stephen, ed. 2010. Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails. Routledge.
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Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition. Psychology Press.
Harris, Marvin. 2001. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. AltaMira
Knox, Hannah, and Penny Harvey. 2011 "Anticipating Harm: Regulation and Irregularity on a
Road Construction Project in the Peruvian Andes." Theory, Culture & Society 28(6):
Larkin, Brian. 2013. "The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure." Annual Review of
Anthropology 42: 327-343.
Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2004. "People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in
Johannesburg." Public Culture 16(3): 407-429.
Soppelsa, Peter S. 2009. The Fragility of Modernity: Infrastructure and Everyday Life in
Paris, 1870-1914. PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.
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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.
Appadurai, Arjun. 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis and London: Minnesota University Press.
Bender, Thomas, and Çinar Alev. 2007. “Introduction: The City, Experience, Imagination, and Place”. In Urban Imaginaries: Locating the Modern City, Alev Çinar and Thomas Bender (eds). Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, xi-xxvi.
Dalakoglou, Dimitris. 2017. The Road: An Ethnography of (im)mobility, spaces and cross-border infrastructures in the Balkans. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Dalakoglou Dimitris and Kallianos Yannis. 2014. “Infrastructural flows, interruptionsand stasis in Athens of the crisis”. In City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 18 (4-5): 526-532.
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Spata, Attica, February 1976, a flipped over police bus, officers of the newly funded riot police near the site where took place clashes with the residents who protest against the plans of the new airport. This road is today next to the Athens airport which was built eventually between late 1990s and early 2000s. (photo from the book: 'November 1983: These struggles are continued, were not redeemed, they did not find justice' Patra: Antipliroforisi )
By Dimitris Dalakoglou & Yannis Kallianos
One of the major uprisings of the early post-dictatorial period in Greece (1974-1981) took place in response to plans to construct a new infrastructure. The people of Spata, a town outside Athens, fiercely resisted government plans to build the capital city’s new airport within the boundary of their municipality. Following many months of protests in 1975 and 1976, the locals erected a ‘watchtower’ overlooking the site where the airport was to be built. The villagers took shifts in the ‘watchtower’ in order to prevent works from starting on the site and to alert those in the town of any suspicious activity. On 2 February 1976, however, the government decided to clear out the protesters. A large force of riot police was sent from Athens to take control of the territory. This resulted in a series of violent confrontations that lasted for many hours; 27 police officers and 10 Spata residents were injured. The protesters overturned police buses, and took a policeman hostage for several hours in retaliation for the arrest of five of their fellow villagers.
Although there are ethnographers working in the area (Gefou-Madianou 1999; 2014) there is not much information regarding the events around the anti-airport struggles. According to the local oral histories that we recorded in 2014, the majority of Spata’s population in the 1970s relied on farming as a major source of household income and they were not interested in losing their land for an airport that none of them would use. At that time, air travel was still exclusive and well outside the socio-cultural matrix of most Greeks. Thus, although the government had promised compensation, or had at least made abstract promises to farmers about establishing new export markets, the Spata residents remained unconvinced.
It is a testament to the seismic shift in the collective mindset over the following decades as, today, Athens International Airport ‘Eleftherios Venizelos’ is located precisely in Spata. Work eventually began on it in the 1990s and it was completed in 2001– with no resistance at a time of unprecedented infrastructural development under a national narrative of progress and modernization.
This enthusiasm – which reached its height from the mid 1990s to the mid-to-late two thousands – was short-lived, however. The advent of the euro-crisis, almost thirty-five years after the Spata protests, spurred people to deeper thought. The acquiescence or enthusiasm for large scale state infrastructure projects took on a new form of suspicion and resistance. Ironically, Messogeia in the wider Spata area, became one of the first places to demonstrate this second shift in public opinion when, in late 2010, Keratea, a neighboring town to Spata, rose up against the government’s plans to build a new waste management facility for Athens and its periphery. The project was supposed to be a completely new type of facility for the country's waste management standards, according to the government at the time. Greece's supreme court, where the municipality of Keratea had appealed the government's decision, had ruled that there are no environmental risks. The site selected, while a few kilometers away from the town itself, was well within the boundaries of the municipality. The struggle shared some very similar characteristics to those witnessed in Spata. Keratea was the first major grassroots struggle that the Greek austerity-governments faced following the signing of the initial loan agreement in May 2010.
As such it was also to prove indicative of the social movements that were to come during the crisis. It manifested the mobilization of critical masses locally and of groups that during the recent past had had no connection with social movements and activism. Keratea was paradigmatic not only in terms of qualitative characteristics, which one observes being repeated during the protests of the crisis (Dalakoglou 2012), but mostly because it indicated the concretization of a new period in the history of Greek politics where infrastructures emerge as one of the major arena of political and social contestation (Kallianos 2017).
infra-demos seeks to find what changed between the early stages of that post-dictatorial period (1974-1981) and the 1990s when the airport and the new Attica Expressway – that connects the city with the airport – alongside the Olympic facilities, the largest motorways in the country (Via Egnatia) and plethora of other infrastructural projects began to be built enjoying the consent of the critical mass? Furthermore what changed in the most recent stage of that period (2010-) where almost every Greek state infrastructural project has met with local resistance?
Dalakoglou, Dimitris (2012) Beyond spontaneity: crisis, violence and collective action in Athens. City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 16 (5). pp. 535-545
Gefou-Madianou, Dimitra 1999. “Cultural Polyphony and Identity Formation: Negotiating Tradition in Attica”. American Ethnologist 26(2): 412–439.
Gefou-Madianou, Dimitra. 2014. “Messogia, the new ‘Eleftherios Venizelos Airport’ and ‘Attiki Odos’ or, the Double Marginalization of Messogia”. In Jaya Klara Brekke et al (eds) Crisis-scapes: Athens and Beyond. Athens: Crisis-scape, pp. 18-21.
Kallianos, Y. 2017 Infrastructural disorder: The politics of disruption, contingency, and normalcy in waste infrastructures in Athens. Environemnt and Planning D: Society and Space
By Christos Giovanopoulos
Infrastructures & democracy
Infrastructures are often portrayed as an objective economic-material entity that embodies a process of order and control which organizes the social fabric. In that sense infrastructures are conceived as the domain within which the social contract is materialized in forms of modern industrial production and State governance. In other words, infrastructures can be seen as the material embodiments of social antagonisms and correlations of power and as such as perpetrators of the dominant mode of social relationships and organization.
In that sense any rupture on the infrastructural functioning, which we call infrastructural gap (IG), challenges the existing social contract. Much more so when this gap has been resulted from both the (still unfolding) economic-political crisis and the agency of social movements and innovative grassroots activities. More specifically citizens experience the deregulation and decline of “hard” (large scale) and “soft” (social services) infrastructural provisions as interference in the citizen–state relationship. Thus, IG emerges as a challenge of the entire socio-political paradigm.
With “soft” infrastructures we mean mainly the infrastructures that relate with the basic and everyday needs of social reproduction and welfare. On that field in post-2011 Greece we have experienced the emergence of a novel paradigm of grassroots collective action to counter a severe crisis of social reproduction. A proliferation of self-organised practices and peer to peer relationships that are simultaneously a reaction to the failure of the top-down established infrastructural paradigm and an energetic, and from below, contestation of its operating logic that led to an outburst of social innovation.
Such grassroots mobilisation and resourcefulness has created numerous, polymorphous and autonomous self-managed structures and spaces in the fields of food (without middlemen distro networks, solidarity food-banks and kitchens, self-organised community gardens), health (self-organised solidarity clinics and pharmacies), education (solidarity schools), housing (anti-foreclosures campaign, refugee solidarity accommodation), alternative economy practices (time-banks, barter economy networks, alternative currencies), self-managed workers’ cooperatives, to name but the most known examples.
The wider ecosystem of this grassroots social and solidarity economy has produced a new infrastructural realm that moves beyond the traditional understandings of both “hard” and “soft” infrastructures and the relationships they entail. It does so by proposing models for social participation that merge elements of civil grassroots action with new forms and networks of economic activity mingled with new technologies. In other words, far from being just a response to crisis and austerity it nurtures spaces of exercising democracy and of democratizing the (social and material) means of life-production.
In that way such ecosystem participates and intervenes in the broader setting, debates and antagonism of the emerging and transformative motifs of economy [e.g. sharing (rental) economy, social solidarity economy, cooperativism etc.] and forms of public life and polity [e.g. smart cities, participatory (radical) municipalism etc.]. It manifests an active agency in constituent processes of the new environments of/for infrastructural production, citizenship and democracy.
Thus, in the context of a deficient infrastructural capacity of the market-state model to maintain its grip on citizenship or subjectivity construction, these emerging people-driven infrastructures play a significant role in the renegotiation and shaping of the relationship between infrastructural technologies, political institutions and citizen participation. Something that is reflected in terms such as infrastructural citizenship. Such examples, far from regarding marginal processes or the Greek specific social context, confirm larger shifts in response to this crisis, apparent in the lingo of various governments’ and international entities’ (such as the EU) or in notions such 'Participatory Society’ (NL) or 'Big Society' (UK).
What will we examine?
In the frame of the grassroots democracy - infrastructures relationship, infra-demos will deploy and utilize the notion of infrastructural participation. It will research theoretically and empirically the forms and functions of these newly emerging techno-social “hybrid agoras” (as both market-places and forums) and their potential to reconfigure larger democratic practices and institutions.
More specifically my research will focus on citizen-managed solidarity economy infrastructures. On novel practices that cover the gaps produced by the crisis (but not alone) in soft infrastructures, and which act as paradigms that invite the society to take over roles traditionally covered by the State and/or the market.
Some basic questions that will be asked are:
1) What are the consequences of the IG in the various fields of social reproduction and how do people respond to this? How do they perceive their contestation with the established infrastructural paradigm?
2) In what ways new forms of social participation, ideas of commons and practices of cooperative and solidarity economies are employed and/or merge with novel digital technologies in the production of currently relevant socio-technical infrastructures?
3) Given the IG, what are the relationships among “soft” infrastructural action and social innovation/participation? Can they formulate a sustainable and scaled up infrastructural paradigm without sacrificing their horizontal, decentralized and self-managed organizational structures? What kind of demands and actions (policy) and means and instruments (technologies etc.) can make viable such option?
4) To what extent the emerging social relationships and modes of collective organizing (self-management, assembly based decision making, decentralized and localized networking etc.) can be embodied and reproduced by the development and use of infrastructural instruments and networks?
5) In the light of these innovative and hybrid socio-technological engagements what new forms of infrastructural publics and subjectivities are created? What are the theoretical and practical redefinitions of the society-infrastructures relation?
infra-demos’ theoretical contribution in the conceptualisation of infrastructures is based in the understanding of infrastructures as hybrid entities embedded in active social relationships. This allow us to perceive the infrastructures (hard or soft) as sites of socio-material innovation and as socio-economic networks that spring from self-organised political action. In that context infra-demos aims to display the potentialities held by society’s collective intelligence (for technological and institutional innovations) to articulate participatory forms of “infrastructural citizenship and governance” vis à vis the infrastructural gap.
Entangled with such challenge infra-demos aims are:
a. To address the relationships between infrastructures and innovative socio-technological forms of participation.
b. To outline the traits and implications of a new socio-technological realm that is shaped by technologies of social participation related on practices of commons, sharing and solidarity economies and
c. To define the domain where this emerging ecosystem operates and the infrastructural and institutional (policies) frameworks that it creates for ‘infrastructural citizenship and governance’, beyond the state – private - civil society triptych.
Thus infra-demos will investigate the social dynamics and will assess the constitutional and economic capacities, along with the theoretical potentials, of such activities towards building societal resilience and transformative policies.
Since the notion of infrastructures was introduced in social theory (Marx & Engels 2012), and subsequently elaborated by leading anthropologists (Godelier 1979; Harris 1969), it has involved a paradox. On the one hand, human labour, namely the way that people engage with each other and the material world – together with the related technologies and techniques – constituted a crucial component of infrastructures. On the other hand, infrastructures were considered a primarily economic-technical material entity rather than a socio-cultural element. This has set a theoretical paradigm that extends to today, affecting the way social sciences – and related disciplines – approach infrastructures (Edwards 2003:186; Dourish & Bell 2007:417; Graham 2010; Dalakoglou 2009).
Thus infrastructures are often portrayed as an objective economic-material entity that embodies a process of order and control that organizes the social fabric (Humphrey 2006; Edwards 2003). This ideal was related to modern forms of State governance that promoted the mass-scale centralised production of hard and soft infrastructures aimed at economic growth, but also to social control and political consent. So infrastructural development during the second half of the 20th century in Europe was based on this ‘modern infrastructure ideal' (Graham & Marvin 2001; Dalakoglou 2009).
We have a growing literature that addresses the relationship between the decrease of infrastructural capacity of the market-state model and citizenship or political subjectivity (Wafer 2012; Schnitzler 2008, 2016; Dalakoglou 2017). Most of these studies examine the connection between state, power and infrastructure (Kooy and Bakker 2008; Mann 2008; McFarlane 2008, Larkin 2013). Infrastructures’ significance in the shaping of this relationship is reflected in terms such as ‘infrastructural citizenship’ (Shelton 2015:2).
Hence, while the post-2008 crisis, along with its associated IG, has material consequences, it stands primarily as a socio-political event. However, as mentioned above in the context of the innovative social practices centred around IG, we witness the emergence of technologies that are related to grassroots smart cities, the Internet of Things, ideals of commons, practices and e-infrastructures of shared, social and solidarity economies that merge with novel domains of social participation into an infrastructural world that occupies realms of the IG. Ultimately, these open up new potentialities for a very different (infrastructural) future. The daily challenge made against the established systems leads to fundamental transformations in the divisions between soft and hard infrastructures and socio-technological tactics, calling into question traditional divisions between digital/immaterial networks and physical/material ones. Thus there is in fact a rearticulation of socio-cultural conditions in negotiation with digital and other technological innovations, based on common human and non-human frameworks of participation (Marres 2012; Marres and Lezaun 2011; Latour 2005; Dalakoglou 2017; Dalakoglou & Kallianos 2014). Therefore, employing the notion of infrastructural participation in reference to the relationship between democracy and infrastructure, Infra-Demos project will explain theoretically and empirically the forms and functions of these newly emerging techno-social “hybrid forums and agoras” that emerge reconfiguring democracy in Europe (Latour 2005:23; Callon et al. 2001; Dalakoglou 2016a).
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