Derailed: the contentious politics of Italian high-speed rail
(University of Warsaw)
Paper short abstract:
This paper focuses on the contentious politics of high-speed railways (TAV) in Italy. Railways are considered the sustainable transportation infrastructure of the future. Yet No TAV protesters criticize high-speed rail as an expression of outdated visions of growth and undemocratic governance.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores how the development of transportation infrastructures becomes the fulcrum of political contention in contemporary Europe. Ethnographically, it focuses on the No TAV movements in Italy, protesting against the construction of new high-speed and high-capacity railways (TAV) in various parts of the country. The paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork inside the oldest and strongest of these movements, in the Alpine Valley of Susa. A new trans-border connection between Lyon and Turin is to run through the Valley, doubling an existing railway. Railways are usually considered an environmentally sustainable alternative to air transportation, and therefore presented as the par excellence transport infrastructure of the future. However, No TAV activists challenge this view. They highlight environmental disasters caused by the construction of new TAV lines, and point out how TAV projects are often entangled in illicit relations between the government, finance, and organized crime. Activists also stress how these projects tend to be based on dubious cost-benefit analyses and supported by untenable forecasts of traffic increase. In sum, the development of TAV is revealed as an expression of undemocratic governance and an obsolete, 1990s vision of unlimited future growth in the production of commodities and their long-distance transportation. Protesters highlight that by consuming billions of Euros of public money and destroying local environments this vision ignores and effectively pre-empts a plurality of other, more sustainable futures, which might be preferable to communities.
The winding roads: infrastructures and technologies of (im)mobility