Bringing publics into existence: plans, contestation and urban governance in Beirut
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the role of urban plans as visual and political artefacts that might help bringing infrastructural publics into existence, through the ethnographic example of architects-turned-campaigners in Beirut, Lebanon.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines contestation to state-led urban redevelopment in Beirut, Lebanon, accepting Collier et al.'s (2016) invitation to look at the interplay between the manner in which infrastructure is planned and constructed and the manner in which publics are gathered, particularly in relation to the promotion of specific kinds of public interest. It does so by exploring ethnographically the case of a group of local architects-turned-civic campaigners who have been successfully opposing the construction of a highway bridge through an historical neighbourhood by proposing the realisation of a public park on the same site. Starting from the premise that if planning is a promise (Abram and Weszkalnys 2013), plans as artefacts are the visual and material representation of the political project that lies behind that infrastructural promise, this contribution focuses on plans and other visuals that campaigners have produced for promotional material and public exhibitions to support their cause. Here, plans themselves reveal an alternative political vision that is disseminated through those images and that, it is promised, could exist in place of the plans promoted by authorities. The paper thus argues that plans are primary techno-political artefacts through which campaigners in Beirut materialise and communicate their alternative political vision to larger civic publics, and which extends their reach, or agency, to them (Venkatesan 2009). Ultimately, these plans emerge as the primary vehicle through which a small, professional public that has 'chose to be united' (campaigners) attempts to 'call into being' a larger infrastructural public of citizens.
The art of infrastructure