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.
The Temporalities of Infrastructure
Ashley Carse and David Kneas
Laurie Kain Hart
This article examines how territory, the built environment, and the entropy of material things through time transmit and modulate legacies of ethno-national and global conflicts. Taking the Greek Civil War as a ‘critical event’, framed by its antecedents and its sequelae, I consider how overlapping histories of war at the international tri-state border of northwest Greek Macedonia and in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina shape dwelling, the control of space, and historical memory. The analysis explores how catastrophic events become materially embedded, how events age in place, and what role changing infrastructure plays in the commutation or preservation of injuries suffered in violent, especially internecine, conflict.
Changing conceptions of boredom, progress, and the future among young men in urban Ethiopia, 2003–2015
In the context of unprecedented rates of urban unemployment, in the early 2000s young men in Ethiopia struggled with an overabundance of time. I examine changes in urban young men’s experiences of time and progress over a period of 13 years to better understand the nature of boredom and modernity. Young men simultaneously experienced a sense a linear progress in their own lives, and feelings of frustration when shift s in their built environment did not translate into a more abstract sense of change. Ultimately I argue that in contrast to conceptions of boredom that emerge out of the West, Ethiopian boredom was profoundly social in the sense that it was based on an inability to experience progress in one’s relations of reciprocity with others.
White currency in the gentrification of black and Latino Chicago
In Chicago, real estate value is fixed by race through the process of gentrification. I present findings from an ethnography of the black, Mexican, and Puerto Rican neighborhoods of the greater West Side. Gentrification here is a “racial fix”: a consensus-building process to inflate value in a speculative market reliant on the historical legacies of racism. The white flight era devalued neighborhoods now facing speculation and hyperinflation as increased global investment, debt culture, and debt financing fuel the growth machine. The discourses of residents, randomized survey results, and a built environment scan show that property value corresponds more to white residence than material improvement. White people cultivate the currency of whiteness through gentrification to build social status, capital, and the city of their dreams.
Despite its highly visible physical reunification, Berlin has social fault lines that seriously challenge the city?s integration. This article reviews the multiple cleavages that crisscross Berlin?s social fabric and assesses whether and how these divides are being bridged. East-West, neighborhood, religious, national/ethnic, and socioeconomic fractures remain wide. Even the social construction of the city?s history and the embedding of collective memory in the built environment are occasions for division. Hopeful signs of increasing social integration, however, are found in the new memorials, creative multicultural forms, vibrant and diverse immigrant neighborhoods, ethnic intermarriage, and other indicators. Under conditions of severe fiscal crisis, policies such as housing renovation, the Social City Program, local nonprofit labor market initiatives, and expanded language instruction are among the deliberate attempts to promote social integration in the "New" Berlin.
Extending the Extended-Case Method
The central concern of this article is the relationship between ethnography and social theory. With the help of 'consequent processualism', a social ontology that centers on the co-constitution of people, cultural forms, social relations, and the built environment, this essay makes an argument for what should be at the core of social theorizing: the principles underpinning the dynamics of processes in the nexus between actions and reactions, igniting social formation in webbed flows of effects across time and space. The article shows how consequent processualism is able to implode time-honored, reifying conceptual dichotomies, such as micro-macro, event-structure, agency-social structure, to open new vistas on the social. Building on consequent processualism, the essay argues on the one hand for the significance of theory for the practice of ethnography in identifying and delimiting fruitful field sites. Conversely, it advocates ethnography as the method of choice for developing social theory.
Edward J. Woodhouse
Was the Hurricane Katrina disaster an aberration, or did it emerge from decision-making processes similar to those governing other public outcomes? Is it more reasonable to expect post-disaster analyses to lead to systematic learning and improved policy, or not to change very much? Most generally, what can be learned about appropriate expertise and usable knowledge from the Katrina experience? I argue that many of the same processes and institutions are at work to create vulnerable populations, design the built environment carelessly with respect to public values, place barriers in the way of preventive action, and make it difficult for experts to contribute to improved outcomes. No doubt there will be some hurricane-specific learning in Katrina's wake, such as more houses on stilts, but political influentials are unlikely to revamp the systemic norms, practices, and institutions that helped shape the disaster. Implications are discussed for interdisciplinary, problem-focused research and community service by scientists, engineers, and other experts.
Construction, temporality, and politics in Astana
This article focuses ethnographically on the built environment of the socalled “Left Bank” area in Astana, Kazakhstan. Previously merely a provincial administrative center, the city became the country’s capital in 1997; soon a new quarter of monumental, futuristic, and stylistically extravagant administrative, residential, and commercial buildings emerged. I argue that the construction effort produces complicity by mobilizing and channeling citizens’ agency. Against the background of recent history, it offers a sense of restored progress-directed collectivity within which individual citizens can seek to engage, pursuing more meaningful and materially satisfying lives. A selective vision of the city is propagandized widely, producing a hyperreal space that captures imaginations, set in opposition to more “ordinary” social space. The contrast between that vision and the lived realities of Astana causes disillusionment, but emic criticism of the political economy fails to transcend the logic of modernization narratives that the ideology of Astana’s construction rests upon.
Architectural pilgrimage is implicitly appreciated in architecture and design circles, especially by students who are encouraged to “travel to architecture,” with the focus on the Grand Tour as a means of architectural exploration. However, the expression has not been made explicit in the fields of architectural history, pilgrimage studies, tourism research, and mobility studies. I explore how pilgrimage to locations of modern architectural interest affects and informs pilgrims' and architects' conceptions of buildings and the pilgrimage journey itself. Drawing initially on a European architectural pilgrimage, the personal narrative highlights the importance of self-reflection and introspection when observing the built environment and the role of language in mediating processes of movement through and creation of architectural place-space.
Sharing and Negotiating Social Knowledge Through Space and Bodily Practice
This article takes the reader on a journey around the spaces of west African houses, and shows how the social world is replicated in the built environment. Based on the case study, this article argues that architecture serves as a model of the outside world to its inhabitants. Knowledge about the social order is embodied by moving through the architectural space. In this particular case, the society's kinship system and kin relations are encoded in the compounds' architectural spaces. This article traces how this order is created, read, and reproduced by its inhabitants, and argues that the house serves as a model of the social (kinship) order. I article conclude by showing that the emic architectural model of the local kinship systems allows for a higher complexity than verbal descriptions can. This article contributes to an anthropology of the house and discusses questions of collective knowledge and memory. It offers considerations of the nature of emic models and cognitive maps, and explores how these maps are shared and reproduced.