Accepted Paper:

Infrastructure's allure  


Tim Schwanen (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Interventions in infrastructures are currently popular means for regulating mobilities. This paper analyses why this is so for people’s everyday mobility, locating infrastructure’s allure in the challenges of communicating experiences and understandings of comfort, convenience, speed and efficiency.

Paper long abstract:

The regulation of the mobilities of people, artefacts, molecules, capital, ideas, etc. is at the heart of contemporary biopolitical regimes but many of the means deployed for such regulation in the past, such as command-and-control and strongly paternalistic measures, are no longer seen as desirable in many places across liberal democracies. This partly explains why the (re)assembling of infrastructures has (re)emerged as a key strategy to govern mobilities. Wide-ranging coalitions of divergent interests have often come into being around interventions in infrastructure, even if this seemingly post-political, always fragile symbiosis is constantly at risk of turning into conflict and contestation.

Using the everyday urban mobility of people as case-study, this paper examines the allure of infrastructural interventions, particularly in light of fragility and sometimes outright unruliness of the creation, operation, functioning, maintenance and management of infrastructures. It draws together notions and insights from a range of disciplines including geography, STS, anthropology and philosophy and relies on empirical materials from research projects in cities in the UK, the Philippines and Brazil. It is argued that the allure of infrastructures for everyday urban mobility results from the ways in which they allow movement, representations and affects to become entangled in different ways for different alliances of interests. The challenges of communicating experiences and understandings of comfort, convenience, speed and efficiency and hence the interpretative flexibility of these terms are considered particularly important to the allure of infrastructural interventions into people's everyday mobility, not least because they enable the economisation of infrastructures.

Panel T006
Infrastructures in practice and in flux