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Africa under construction: critical perspectives on infrastructure and labour 
Gideon Tups (University of Cologne)
Evelyne Owino (Bonn International Center for Conflict Studies)
Johannes Theodor Aalders (University of Bonn)
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Format :
Streams :
Environment and Geography (x) Infrastructure (y)
Friday 2 June, -
Time zone: Europe/Berlin

Short Abstract:

This panel links (critical) infrastructure studies and labour geography to highlight the many ways in which workers take active part in shaping the physical form and future visions of infrastructure in Africa.

Long Abstract:

Without labour, infrastructure is unthinkable. Yet, the mutual relationship between infrastructure and labour remains under-investigated in critical approaches to infrastructure and labour. This panel provides a platform to discuss how workers take an active part in shaping the physical form and future visions of infrastructure. We highlight cases in Africa, where governments, consultancies and aid agencies alike present filling the so-called 'infrastructure-gap' as the prime solution to the continent's real and perceived problems, while others criticise neo-colonial characteristics of a "new scramble" for African infrastructure.

Understanding infrastructure as "under construction" means studying it as a process rather than a static or concluded thing. A focus on the constant making, re-making and un-making of infrastructure reveals the always unfinished practices that underpin the apparently stable, and territorially fixed materiality of built infrastructure. It furthermore reveals the often hidden work of constructing the African futures. We invite panellists to critically address what forms of labour are mobilised in the (de-)construction of infrastructure ("infrastructuring labour") as well as how labour relations change due to the dynamic and countervailing nature of infrastructuring processes ("infrastructured labour"), foregrounding forms of labour that usually remain invisible where capitalist exploitation based on class intersects with synergetic systems of marginalisation based on race, gender, etc.

Potential topics could focus on the relation between infrastructure and…

… Labour migration

… Gendered labour relations

… The politics of (in-)visible labour

… Labour organising and trade unions

… The work of future-making

… Colonial (dis-)continuities of labour relations

Accepted papers:

Session 1 Friday 2 June, 2023, -