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Fronstaging the Urban Backstage?  The Politics of Infrastructure Disruptions …

Fronstaging the Urban Backstage?  The Politics of Infrastructure Disruptions

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  • 1. Fronstaging the Urban Backstage? The Politics of Infrastructure Disruptions Stephen Graham Newcastle University
  • 2. 1. Leigh-Star (1999) •  For Susan Leigh-Star (1999) nine characteristics. •  embedded (i.e.“sunk into other structures); •  transparent (“it does not need to be reinvented eachtime or assembled for each task”); •  offers temporal or spatial reach or scope; •  is learned by its users; •  is linked to conventions of practice (e.g. routines ofelectricity use); •  embodies standards; •  is built on an installed base of sunk capital; •  is fixed in modular increments, not built all at once orglobally; •  Finally, infrastructure “tends to become visible uponbreakdown”
  • 3. Conventional Narratives •  When infrastructure networks "workbest, they are noticed least of all" (DavidPerry, 1995). •  Modernist urbanism associated withprogressive veiling of infrastructure,physically and discursively, beneath theurban scene, as part of emergence of“Wired-Piped-Tracked” Metropolis •  Kaika and Swyngedouw (2000) "thenetworks became buried underground,invisible, banalised, and relegated to anapparently marginal, subterranean urbanworld".
  • 4. ‘Unblackboxing’ •  Technosocial ‘blackboxes” aremomentarily undone •  Cultures of normalised and taken-for-granted infrastructure use sustainwidespread assumptions that urban‘infrastructure’ is somehow a materialand utterly fixed assemblage of hardtechnologies embedded stably in placewhich is characterised by perfectorder, completeness, immanence andinternal homogeneity rather than leaky,partial and heterogeneous entities.
  • 5. Myth of Fixed and StableEmplacement •  Infrastructures regarded as "symbols of thecomplexity, ubiquity and the embodied power ofmodern technology" (Summerton 1994). •  “We sometimes seem to view mature LargeTechnicalSystems as invulnerable, embodying more and morepower over time and developing along a path whosebasic direction is as foreseeable as it is impossible todetour [But] systems are more vulnerable, less stableand less predictable in their various phases than mostof us tend to think (Summerton, 1994)
  • 6. ‘Frontstaging’ Urban ‘Backstage’ •  Irving Goffman’s (1959)terms, the builtenvironment’s “backstage’becomes momentarily“frontstaged” •  The sudden absence ofinfrastructural flow createsvisibility just as thecontinued, normalised useof infrastructures creates adeep taken-for-grantednessand invisibility.
  • 7. Reification?Too Categorical, Static, Crude •  Often simply not the case! •  Varies enormously by site/place/sector/subjectivity •  Complex politics/poetics/mediations/remediations ofproduced visibilities and invisibilities •  Contested and woven through with profoundly unequalpower geometries across topologies of time/space •  Need a much more nuanced, detailed exploration ofprecisely how disruptions are discursively and materiallyconstructed and experienced in different sites/’sectors’/places/ cases/subjectivities to reveal complex politics ofvisibility and invisibility
  • 8. 1. Often Simply Not the Case: Discourse of the Powerful?For a billion urbanites or more, infrastructural failure, exclusion and precarity isperpetually and profoundly visible & imprivisation is constantInfrastructures have “always been foregrounded in the lives of more precarioussocial groups — i.e. those with reduced access or without access or who havebeen disconnected, as a result either of socio-spatial differentiation strategies orinfrastructure crises or collapse.” Colin McFarlane and Jonathan Rutherford (2008) 
  • 9. •  Cultures and economies of infrastructural repairand improvisation almost invisible within urbanstudies
  • 10. 2. ComplexTopologies of Disruption and (Re)Mediationsof Produced (In)Visibility inTime-SpaceCascading disruptions in space and time within multiple, tightly-coupled, skeins of infrastructure networks (Richard Little)
  • 11. “We are all hostages toelectricity” Leslie (1999)Socio-technical ‘Normal Accidents’ (CharlesPerrow): Blackout
  • 12. Exposed Myths ofDematerialisation/ SectoralIsolation/ ‘Cleanness’:The Electromateriality of‘cyberspace’ •  “When servers are down,panic sets in. Electronicpower failures, internalsurges, the glitches thatcorrupt and destroy memory,mirror our relation withpower itself” (Grossman,2003, 23). •  A single Google server farmconsumes as much electricalpower as a city the size ofHonolulu.
  • 13. “On July 19, 2001, a train shipping hydrochloric acid, computer paper,wood-pulp bales and other items from North Carolina to New Jerseyderails in a tunnel under downtown Baltimore. Later estimated to havereached 1,500 degrees, the ensuing fire is hot enough to make theboxcars glow.A toxic cloud forces the evacuation of several city blocks.By its second day, the blaze melts a pipe containing fiber-optic lines laidalong the railroad right-of-way, disrupting telecommunications traffic ona critical NewYork-Miami axis. Cell phones in suburban Maryland fail.The NewYork–based Hearst Corporation loses its email and the abilityto update its web pages.Worldcom, PSINet, and Abovenet reportproblems. Slowdowns are seen as far away as Atlanta, Seattle, and LosAngeles, and the American embassy in Lusaka, Zambia loses all contactwith Washington.” KazysVarnelis ExposedTopologiesDisruption and Digitality 
  • 14. Exposed Myths of Neoliberal Re-Regulation •  Electricity deregulation in the USA had actually ignored theeconomic and geographical fundamentals of an industry thatnecessitates reliable, material connectivities betweengeneration and use; that is prone to cascading and spirallingfailure as transcontinental and transnational markets in supplyare established within “complex interactive networks,” withdramatic unintended consequences ; and where the hardinfrastructures are ageing and organised with a baroque levelof complexity and local fragmentation.
  • 15. But post-mortems for such events become messy! “A distributive notion of agency does interfere with theproject of blaming. But it does not thereby abandon theproject of identifying [ ] the sources of harmful effects.Tothe contrary, such a notion broadens the range of places tolook for sources. ” Must look at the “selfish intentions and energy policy thatprovides lucrative opportunities for energy trading whilegenerating a tragedy of the commons”; at “the stubborndirectionality of a high-consumption social infrastructure”;and at “the unstable power of electron flows, wildfires, ex-urban housing pressures, and the assemblages they form”Jane Bennett Jane Bennett, (2005) “The Agency of Assemblages and the North American Blackout,” Public Culture 17(3): 445–65. Pp. 463.
  • 16. Emergent, Malign Mobilities: SARS (Roger Keil and S. Harris Ali)
  • 17. Securitising Networked Flows
  • 18. Supply Disruptions: Oil Shock
  • 19. 3. Moments of Mass/PopularTechnoscientific Cartography/Visualisatione.g.Trawler Severing Oceanic Optic Fibre Off Egypt, December 2008
  • 20. Classic Media Events/ Moral Panics
  • 21. 4. Can be Used to Disrupt Conventional Media/ PoliticalTropes and ProvideHeuristic Devices for Critical Scholarship/Pedagogy and Engagement toChallenge and DenaturaliseThese An ‘act of God’? A ‘technical failure’? ‘Accident’?A ‘natural disaster’? A social meltdown?
  • 22. •  Reveal the Often Hidden Politics ofRisk •  Also unerringly reveal the oftenconcealed politics of cyborganisedcities •  e.g. Katrina in 2005 not a ‘naturaldisaster’ or ‘Act of God.’ Rather, theinevitable result of: •  Climate change accentuating hurricane •  Hitting a city denuded of naturalprotection and •  Very poorly covered by a leveenetwork that was systematically raciallybiased over centuries of constructedsocio-nature in context of a •  A Neoconservative FederalGovernment that had systematicallyskewed Emergency Planning towardsterrorism for political ends
  • 23. 5. Culture of Fascination “Cyborgs, like us, are endlessly fascinated by machinic breakdowns,which would cause disruptions in, or denials of access to, theirmegatechnical sources of being.” Tim Luke (2004)(above NYC blackout, 2003) • 
  • 24. •  Arcade Fire’s song,“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”; a visceral reflection of the experience, and hammers homethe sense of modernity unraveled, lives threatened, and norms abandoned: “Woke up with the power out, not really somethin to shout about. ice has covered up my parents hands, dont have any dreams dont have any plans. i went out into the night, i went out to find some light. kids are swingin from the power lines, nobodys home so nobody minds I woke up on the darkest night, neighbors all were shouting that they found the light - "we found the light." - shadows jumpin all over my walls, some of them big, some of them small. i went out into the night i went out to pick a fight with anyone. light a candle for the kids, Jesus Christ dont keep it hid! Ice has covered up my parents hands, dont have any dreams dont have any plans. growin up in some strangestorm, nobodys cold, nobodys warm. i went out into the night, i went out to find some light. kids are dyin out in the snow, look at them go - look at them go! and the powers out in the heart of man, take it from your heart put it in your hand. whats the plan? whats the plan? is it a dream? Is it a lie? i think Ill let you decide. just light a candle for the kids, Jesus Christ dont keep it hid! cause nothings hid, from us kids! you aint foolin nobody - with the lights out! and the powers out in the heart of man, take it from your heart put it in your hand. and theres something wrong in the heart of man, you take it from your heart and put it in your hand! whered you go?!”
  • 25. 6. Multiple, Contested, Disruption DiscoursesPrivileged Discourses of Disruption (and Invoked Securitisation) Often Work to Obfuscate Less Privileged Ones, SometimesViolently!E.g. Blackouts and the ‘Global’ City •  “We are talking aboutMumbai as the nextShanghai”, a generalmanager for a majorMumbai advertising firm,faced with losing 30% of itsrevenues due to daily 4hour power cuts, reportedin 2005.“And here we arefaced with the possibilitiesof blackouts” •  (SAND, 2005).
  • 26. Infrastructure Disruptions, Security and PoliticalViolenceMumbai’s ‘Water wars’ (Colin McFarlane)
  • 27. Securocratic War (Allen Feldman ) •  Permanent, open-ended and deterritorialised mobilisationsor ‘wars’ (on drugs, crime, terror, illegal immigration,biological threats) organised around vague and all-encompassing notions of public safety rather than territorialconquest •  Reproduce state sovereignty not through external war andinternal policing but through raising the spectre of mobilitiesand flows which are deemed to contaminate societies andthreaten the social order internally and externallysimultaneously •  Terrorism, demographic infiltration,‘illegal’ immigration, andpathogens and disease (SARS, bird flu, Mad Cow…. •  Unknown and unknowable, these varied and dispersedthreats are deemed to lurk within the interstices of urbanand social life, blending invisibly with it. • 
  • 28. Virtual Borders Erupt Both Within and Without Territorial Limits of States •  “The virtual border, whether it faces outward or inwardto foreignness, is no longer a barrier structure but ashifting net, a flexible spatial pathogenesis that shiftsround the globe and can move from the exteriority ofthe transnational frontier into the core of thesecurocratic state.”Allen Feldman •  Central here is the distinction between an event andthe normal, societal background.Thus,‘security events’emerge when “improper or transgressive circulations”from the range of putative threats become visible andare deemed to threaten the ‘normal’ worlds oftransnational capitalism. •  The figure of the ‘terrorist’ looms especially large herebecause such figures are seen to simultaneously breedimproper circulations of bodies, money, and drugs
  • 29. “The interruption of the moral economy of safe circulation is characterized as a dystopic ‘riskevent’,” Feldman suggests.“Disruption of the imputed smooth functioning of the circulationapparatus in which nothing is meant to happen.‘Normalcy’ is the non-event, which in effectmeans the proper distribution of functions, the occupation of proper differential positions, andsocial profiles.”
  • 30. Water…
  • 31. Streets…
  • 32. •  "the next Pearl Harbor will beboth everywhere and nowhere atthe same time. Its targets will not bethe U.S. military or defense systembut, instead, the U.S. public and itspost-industrial and highlyinformatized lifestyle.What is now atool for comfort, an object ofleisure, or a necessary support forwork [..] will soon become theworlds deadliest weapon” (Debrix,2001).
  • 33. “GrocerTerrorists”: Criminalisation of (Alleged) InfrastructuralTargeting:“The Coming Insurgency”and the “Tarnac Nine” 
  • 34. ‘Zone/Park’;Archipelagos of Enclaves, Passage-Point Urbanism and the Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism
  • 35. Criminalising Strikes,Securitising Labourand the Postpolitical‘Logistics City’ (Deb Cowen)
  • 36. Disruptions and Political Protest- Bangkok: Peoples Alliance forDemocracy (PAD), Dec 2008
  • 37. Gate Gourmet Dispute, Heathrow, 2005
  • 38. CyborgianGlobal City System and the New Imperialism •  Neoliberalised global cities often have a parasitic relationship withnear and distant hinterlands •  Global neoliberal urbanisation has led to ‘devastating disparitiesbetween the mobility of capital and labour that have produced newforms of economic serfdom in the global South’ Matthew Gandy •  Resource (food, water, energy) grabs organised and finance throughthe financial centres and technopoles of the North’s global financecapitals •  Biopiracy and biofuels push (indigenous groups in Indonesia,protesting, above) •  E.g. Daewoo (South Korean corporation) has just leased half of allthe arable land in Madagascar to feed South Korean cities in thefuture
  • 39. Constituting the ‘Anthropocene’:Technosocial &Technonatural Assemblages and Metabolisms
  • 40. Bill Joy:WhenTurning Off Becomes Suicide •  Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems,caused a furore amongst, suggested thatthe mediation of human societies byastonishingly complex computerisedinfrastructure systems will soon reach thestage when "people wont be able to justturn the machines off, because they will beso dependent on them that turning themoff would amount to suicide" (2000).
  • 41. War andTerrorism as ‘Decyborganisation’ •  ‘Switching cities off’ •  Deelectrification •  "We need to study how to degrade anddestroy our adversaries abilities totransmit their military, political, andeconomic goods, services andinformation […]. Infrastructures, definingboth traditional and emerging lines ofcommunication, present increasinglylucrative targets for airpower [The visionof] airmen should focus on lines ofcommunications that will increasinglydefine modern societies" (Edward Felker,‘US Air PowerTheorist’, 1998) •  US Air Force model of enemy societies(right)
  • 42. ‘Strategic Paralysis’:‘Bomb Now, Die Later’ : The War on Public Health’, Bombing “Back to the Stone Age” etc.•  General Buster Glosson, Iraq, 1991 : ”I want to put every [Iraqi] household in anautonomous mode and make them feel they were isolated… We wanted to playwith their psyche" •  "We need to study how to degrade and destroy our adversaries abilities totransmit their military, political, and economic goods, services and information.Infrastructures, defining both traditional and emerging lines of communication,present increasingly lucrative targets for airpower [The vision of] airmen shouldfocus on lines of communications that will increasingly define modernsocieties" (Felker, 1998).
  • 43. Disruption by Design andthe Liberal Way of War: State Infrastructural Warfare "There is nothing in theworld today that cannotbecome aweapon" (Liang andXiangsui, 1999) "If you want to destroysomeone nowadays, yougo after theirinfrastructure. " (PhilAgre, 2001)
  • 44. “It should be lights out in Belgrade :every power grid, water pipe, bridge,road and war-related factory has to betargeted. We will set your countryback by pulverizing you. You want1950 ? We can do 1950. You want1389 ? We can do that, too!” Thomas Friedman, New York Times, April 23rd, 1999
  • 45. First Order Effects Second OrderEffects Third Order Effects No light after dark or inbuilding interiors Erosion of commandand control capabilities Greater logisticscomplexity No refrigeration Increased requirementfor power generatingequipment Decreased mobility Some stoves/ovens nonoperable Increased requirementfor night vision devices Decreased SituationalAwareness Inoperable hospitalelectronic equipment Increased reliance onbattery-powered itemsfor news, broadcasts,etc. Rising disease rates No electronic access tobank accounts/money Shortage of clean waterfor drinking, cleaningand preparing food Rising rates ofmalnutrition Disruption in sometransportation andcommunicationsservices Hygiene problems Increased numbers ofnon-combatantsrequiring assistance Disruption to watersupply, treatmentfacilities, and sanitation Inability to prepare andprocess some foods Difficulty incommunicating withnon-combatants
  • 46. Disruption Geopolitics
  • 47. Towards State Computer Network Attack (CNA)