Accepted Papers:

Political engineering: the tangle of infrastructure, security and state authority in contemporary statebuilding interventions  


Peer Schouten (Danish Institute for International Studies)
Jan Bachmann (University of Gothenburg)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper explores the technopolitics of statebuilding through a discussion of efforts to engineer better societies in fragile states by intervening in the built environment.

Paper long abstract:

Can roads literally lead to peace? While perhaps an odd question to ask, contemporary international interventions—collective efforts by the UN, donor countries, and development organizations—increasingly deploy infrastructure in efforts to attain highly contested outcomes, such as security and the extension of state authority, in conflict environments. Electricity, buildings, sewage but particularly roads are tangled into efforts to create peace and rebuild states. While STS has long focused on the social as an almost unintended outcome of the proliferation of large technical systems (LTS), political engineering does the opposite: it explicitly strategizes LTS to rewire the political. In this paper, we build on insights from STS to explore interventions as an instance of what we call political engineering, that is, technopolitical efforts to conjure novel—better—societies by working on the built environment. Focusing on contemporary Western stabilization efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa, we ask, how do such interventions create new publics? How can we conceptualize the attendant assemblages of (always too little) peace, security and state authority emerging around contested—and potentially violent—transnationalized power configurations? How can STS help us tease out what is at stake in infrastructure interventions and their attendant formation of new political spaces?

panel T085
Infrastructures, subjects, politics