Accepted Paper:

Infrastructures and their absences: intimacy and distance in the borderlands of southern Belize  


Sophie Haines (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how formal, informal, incomplete and/or absent infrastructures (of boundary marking, communication and transportation) influence and are influenced by the political, social, economic and environmental realities of living near the contested Belize-Guatemala border.

Paper long abstract:

In southern Belize, near the border with Guatemala, there are few formal, fixed, tangible infrastructures of border demarcation. This very lack of markers, fences, and immigration posts calls attention to the border's geopolitical significance/controversy. Nearby, the material forms of roads, cables, pipes, clinics and public buildings elicit stories about histories and imagined futures of mobility, communication, health, defence, and the roles of states and donors; stories are also conjured by abandonment, obsolescence and absence, and by unintended or unanticipated effects of the (un-)built environment. Thus, infrastructures and their absences summon emotive debates over political-economic inequalities, environmental resources and national security; they reflect and constitute (post)colonial territorialities, and become embedded in perceptions of the environment.

People who live and work near the border often engage in genial and intimate cross-border social/economic collaborations, frequently facilitated by infrastructures whose forms, effects and affects are less concrete and fixed, more flexible and unruly (footpaths, cellular networks, 'informal' land-use arrangements). Simultaneously, the border's uncertainties contribute to fears and experiences of violence that underpin anxiety and defensiveness. At a time when new concrete infrastructures are being constructed near (and potentially across) this internationally contested border, what do such processes mean and entail for people whose lives and livelihoods will be proximally affected? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork, the paper traces how infrastructures and relationships of intimacy and distance generate potential for collaboration and challenge, thus placing this 'marginal' locale at the heart of the region's planned and imagined futures.

Panel P060
The anthropology of infrastructure: ordering people, places, and imaginaries