Tracks of Contention: Reconfigurating the Political through High-Speed Railway Protests in Alpine Italy
(University of Warsaw)
Paper short abstract:
Focusing on anti-high speed railway protests in Italy, this paper analyses how infrastructural conflicts lead to novel political configurations. Centrality, marginality, closeness and remoteness are constructed and contested, while activists develop place-based critiques of capitalist globalisation.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores how engineering infrastructures, and railways in particular, become foci of political contention in contemporary Europe. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in Valsusa, in Alpine Italy, with residents and activists resisting a high-speed railway project, the paper addresses infrastructures' generative roles with regard to social and political relations. I argue that conflicts over the construction of place, closeness and remoteness afforded by railways, can lead to complex reconfigurations of the political. The struggle in Valsusa, ongoing since the 1990s, is the most long-running and largest infrastructural conflict in present-day Europe. Contrary to common assumptions, protesters show the railway project is environmentally as well as economically unsustainable, and they denounce it as an expression of illicit interests linking figures in the Italian government to potent industrial and financial actors. Analysing this conflict, I highlight the production and dissemination of technical counter-expertise among activists and show how that knowledge about railways and their impacts becomes the basis for political mobilisation that overcomes ideological and lifestyle divides among very diverse groups. The movement brings together mountain farmers and retired workers with liberal middle-class intellectuals and experts, as well as Catholic church-goers with communist squatters and various kinds of anarchists. New kinds of individual and collective militant subjectivities emerge, focused on direct action and a critique of neoliberal governance, neoliberal capitalism and the anthropocene. The contestation of the specific infrastructural project becomes a point of departure for constructing alternative models of socio-economic and ecological relationships across scales from the 'local' to the 'global'.
Revisiting railroads: sociality, mobility and infrastructure