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.