Unbuilt and Unfinished

The Temporalities of Infrastructure

in Environment and Society
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  • 1 Vanderbilt University ashley.carse@vanderbilt.edu
  • 2 University of South Carolina kneas@mailbox.sc.edu
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Abstract

Infrastructures have proven to be useful focal points for understanding social phenomena. The projects of concern in this literature are often considered complete or, if not, their materialization is assumed to be imminent. However, many—if not most—of the engineered artifacts and systems classified as infrastructure exist in states aptly characterized as unbuilt or unfinished. Bringing together scholarship on unbuilt and unfinished infrastructures from anthropology, architecture, geography, history, and science and technology studies, this article examines the ways in which temporalities articulate as planners, builders, politicians, potential users, and opponents negotiate with a project and each another. We develop a typology of heuristics for analyzing the temporalities of the unbuilt and unfinished: shadow histories, present absences, suspended presents, nostalgic futures, and zombies. Each heuristic makes different temporal configurations visible, suggesting novel research questions and methodological approaches.

Contributor Notes

ASHLEY CARSE is Assistant Professor of Human and Organizational Development at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Beyond the Big Ditch: Politics, Ecology, and Infrastructure at the Panama Canal (2014). Trained as an anthropologist, his work also engages geography, environmental history, and science and technology studies. Thematically, he focuses on global transportation, the social dimensions of infrastructure, and environmental politics. He has worked in Panama for more than a decade and is currently developing a multi-sited ethnography of the shipping industry that traces connections between the Panama Canal expansion and environmental change in the Southeastern United States. Email: ashley.carse@vanderbilt.edu

DAVID KNEAS is Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of South Carolina, with a joint appointment in the School of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. His long-term research centers on the intersections between agrarian landscapes and mineral exploration in the Ecuadorian Andes. He is currently developing new research that focuses on the global mining industry and the practices of speculation associated with junior exploration companies. Recent publications include “Emergence and Aftermath: The (Un)becoming of Resources and Identities in Northwestern Ecuador” (American Anthropologist, 2018). Email: kneas@mailbox.sc.edu

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