Civic Matter: Infrastructure as Politic

CRASSH Faculty Research Group: ‘Civic Matter: Infrastructure as Politic’

Organized by Henrietta Moore, David Dunne, Wenzel Geissler, Ruth J.
Prince, Christos Lynteris, Noemi Tousignant, Rohan Deb Roy and Branwyn

Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities,
Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Alternate Wednesdays, 2:30-4:30 pm.
Opening session: October 9

Taking infrastructure in a narrow material sense, this faculty
research group thinks broadly about the social, ethical and political
work of infrastructural design, (re)construction and maintenance, and
the ways in which anticipated and obsolete infrastructures are
imagined, remembered, destroyed, recycled or eschewed.  Our central
aim is to explore the past and potential of infrastructure as a civic
project. By drawing on the expertise of Cambridge scholars and guest
speakers from a range of disciplines –from architecture to archeology,
geography to history—we plan to discuss the forms of labour and
imagination that materialize past and future polities, and to identify
the threats posed by neglect, exclusion, dysfunction and privatisation
to this project, and the material effects –from immobility to toxic
exposure—that infrastructural disenfranchisement might produce.
Infrastructure, it is said, is invisible until it breaks down.  Maybe
more accurately, infrastructure is topical when it overflows the
present; when destruction, disrepair or regime change make cables and
pipes things of the past, or when the design of boulevards or dreams
of electrification augur new destinies. As memory, history or
futurity, infrastructure provokes reflection and debate on the ethos
of utilities, communication, circulation and disposal. What kinds of
collectives might sewers and subways bind? Should civic, market or
paternalistic relations guide the shape, size and flow of
infrastructural networks? How have metropolitan, national, imperial
and cosmopolitan visions been materialized as railways and
telecommunications? How do collapsing bridges and mismatched gauges
expose political, technological and ethical failures, as well as the
forms of long-term planning, care and repair required by socialism,
welfare, capitalism or democracy? What political claims have
infrastructural interruption and renovation evoked?