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0 0 1 862 4917 Newcastle University 40 11 5768 14.0 By sustaining flows of water, waste, energy, information, people, commodities, and signs, massive complexes of contemporary urban infrastructure are the embodiment of western, Enlightenment dreams of the social control of nature through advances in technology and science. They are a prerequisite to any notion of modern ‘civilization.’ They are at the heart of the ways in which cities act as the main centres of wealth creation and capital accumulation through extending their control and appropriation of labour power and of resources over distant territories, people, and ecosystems. They have tended to become inexorably woven into notions of the modern state and modern identities associated with nationhood. And infrastructure networks are always at the centre of discussions about urban futurity and the ‘impacts’ that new waves of technological innovation will have on our rapidly urbanizing planet. On our rapidly urbanizing planet, the everyday life of the world’s swelling population of urbanites is increasingly sustained by vast and unknowably complex systems of infrastructure and technology stretched across geographic space. Immobilized in space, they continually bring into being the mobilities and circulations of the city and the world. Energy networks connect the heating, cooling and energising of urban life through infrastructure to both far-off energy reserves and global circuits of pollution and global warming Huge water systems sate the city’s insatiable thirst whilst waste water and sewerage remove human and organic wastes from the urban scene (at least partially). Within cities, dense water, sewerage, food and waste distribution systems continually link human bodies and their metabolisms to the broader metabolic processes through which attempts are made to maintain public health. Global agricultural, shipping and trade complexes furnish the city’s millions with food. Highway, airline, train and road complexes support the complex and multi-scaled flows of commuters, migrants, tourists and refugees, as well as materials and commodities, within and through the global urban system and its links with hinterlands and peripheries. And electronic communications systems provide a universe of digitally mediated information, transaction, interaction and entertainment with is the very lifeblood of digital capitalism and which is increasingly assembled based on assumptions of always being ‘on’. The vital material bases for ‘cyberspace’ are largely invisible and subterranean. They also link intimately both to the electrical infrastructures which allow it to function, and to the other infrastructural circuits of the city as they themselves become organised through digital media. Whilst sometimes taken for granted -- at least when they work or amongst wealthier or more privileged users -- energy, water, sewerage, transport, trade, finance and communication infrastructures allow modern urban life to exist. Their pipes, ducts, servers, wires, conduits, electronic transmissions and tunnels sustain the flows, connections, and metabolisms that are intrinsic to contemporary cities. Through their endless technological agency, these systems help transform the natural into the cultural, the social and the urban. As the great demographic and geographic shift of global urbanisation intensifies, humankind will become ever more reliant on functioning systems of urban infrastructure. Indeed, the very nature of urbanisation means that every aspect of people’s lives tends to become more dependent on the infrastructural circuits of the city to sustain individual and collective health, security, economic opportunity, social well-being and biological life. Moreover, because they rely on the continuous agency of infrastructure to eat, wash, heat, cook, light, work, travel, communicate, and remove dangerous or poisonous wastes from their living place, urbanites often have few or no real alternatives when the complex infrastructures that sometimes manage to achieve this are removed or disrupted. Infrastructural edifices thus provide the fundamental background to modern urban everyday life. This background is often hidden, assumed, even naturalized. This is most common in wealthier, western cities where basic access to a suite of communication, energy, water and transport systems have been to some extent universalized as the basis for modern, urban, citizenship. Once initially completed and universalized, the water, sewerage and electricity systems of the city tended to "became buried underground, invisible, banalised, and relegated to an apparently marginal, subterranean urban world."[i] In conditions where continuous access to key infrastructure circuits has been broadly universalized, Anthroplogists, Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star do stress that “good, usable [infrastructure] systems, disappear almost by definition. The easier they are to use the harder they are to see. As well, most of the time, the bigger they are, the harder they are to see.”[ii] Within social scientific writing about cities, especially, the vast infrastructural circuits of the city have often emerged as little more than “the forgotten, the background, the frozen in place”[iii]– a merely technical backdrop that is the preserve of engineer’s only. Bowker and Leigh-Star offer the banal and often universal experience of uninterrupted electricity services to power a simple, reading light as an example of how infrastructures have a tendency to become taken for granted. “Unless we are electricians or building inspectors,” they write, “we rarely think about the myriad of database, standards, and inspection manuals subtending our reading lamps, much less about the politics of the electric grid that they tap into.”[iv] [i] Maria Kaika and Eric Swyngedouw (2000), “Fetishising the modern city: The phantasmagoria of urban technological networks”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research , 24(1), 122-148, pp. 122. [ii] Geoffrey Bowler and Susan Leigh Star (2000), Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press. [iii] Susan Leigh-Star (1999), “The ethnography of infrastructure”, American Behavioral Scientist, 43(3), 377-391. 379. [iv] Geoffrey Bowler and Susan Leigh Star (2000), Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press. Pp. 33

Publication metadata

Author(s): Graham S

Editor(s): Adey, P; Bissell, D; Hannam, K; Merriman, P; Sheller, M;

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Year: 2013

Print publication date: 22/12/2013

Publisher: Routledge

Place Published: London, UK


Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9780415667715