Accepted paper:

Naturalised infrastructures: Amazonian rainforest, smart cities and the global biopolitics of aluminium


Aníbal Arregui (University of Barcelona)

Paper short abstract:

The Amazonian extraction of aluminium and its commodification for “smart” urban contexts exemplify two ways in which the “power over life” is exerted world over (Foucault 2008). The paper suggests that the naturalisation of human infrastructures enables and connects both biopolitical regimes.

Paper long abstract:

Despite social anthropology and historical ecology having shown the Amazonian rainforest to be a humanized and anthropogenic context, colonial history has depicted it as a purely natural milieu. The social agency of its material culture, traditional infrastructures and geographical arrangements has been swallowed by the naturalist preconceptions of the civilizing project. In parallel, first the colonial despoliation, and later the mechanized extraction of Amazonian natural resources, have provided the modern West with the "raw materials" that have in part afforded an intensive process of industrialisation and urbanisation. In the last decades, the most sophisticated version of these Western ventures is represented by the "smart city" projects that endeavour to create natural environments that emerge from (and are controlled by) hi-tech infrastructural undertakings. By following the example of the extraction of aluminium ores in the river Trombetas (lower Amazon, Brazil) and its commodification for smart urban contexts in Europe, the paper investigates the role that the naturalization of human infrastructures plays in the material flows that enable globalisation and capitalism. Despite the "naturalising ambitions" of smart infrastructures being seemingly distanced from the colonial naturalisation of the Amazonian rainforest, the paper suggests that a global focus on the biopolitics of aluminium might provide an example of how these two ways of exerting "the power over life" constitute each other as historically, economically and ecologically connected technologies of power.

panel P053
Global appropriation of bio-resources and its impacts on local people in international perspective