Thank-you Nicolas for the introduction and thanks to Endre for his interesting posts over the last month. I like the idea of following a theme. So, taking my inspiration Endre, I’m going to focus not parliaments but on underground infrastructure. Given that this is admittedly a very broad topic, I’m going to try to hone in on a couple of themes that Nicolas has suggested are of interests to followers of Installing (Social) Order.
So, in short, over the next few weeks, I will endeavor to get us into a conversation on the following issues related to how we conceive of infrastructure as people who study it, who use it, who build it and who manage it. First, following up on Nicolas’ poste regarding the Small technologies, big change article, I will take another look at the concept of the black box and the relationship of the users to infrastructure. In subsequent posts, I will look at scale and the role of municipalities in questions of infrastructure management, users and the politics of infrastructure, the idea of “differentiated” infrastructures for low-income users, and infrastructure as “sunk cost” versus infrastructure as a “base” for community investment. Having, focused mostly on the municipal scale, in my final posts at the end of the month, I would like to take a look at other scales (including different kinds of scale not based on administrative boundaries) in thinking about infrastructure.
I’m looking forward to your reactions and feedback on these issues.
Before, getting started, I think that it would be great to try to keep in mind some of the ideas that are being discussed on the blog as we think through questions related to infrastructure. Following up on the Endre’s statement with respect to parliaments that “the legislative machine should operate smoothly, but not too smoothly” and the recent posts on Foucault, I would draw your intention to the work of James Ferguson. In his book The Anti-Politics Machine (1994), he asks us not to focus on why development projects don’t work, but why they do work the way they do, i.e. whose or what purposes does it serve? Ferguson, draws this notion from Foucault’s analysis of the prison. On page 254 of his book he writes:
In a situation in which “failure is the norm”, there is no reason to think that the Thaba-Tseka [a development project in Lesotho] was an especially badly run or poorly thought out project. … But it may be that what is most important about a “development” project is not so much what it fails to do but what it does do; it may be that its real importance in the end lies in the “side effects” … Foucault, speaking of the prison, suggests that dwelling on the ‘failure’ of the prison may be asking the wrong question. Perhaps, he suggests,”one should reverse the problem and ask oneself what is served by the failure of the prison; what is the use of these different phenomena that are continually being criticized; the maintenance of delinquency, the encouragement of recidivism, the transformation of the occasional offender into a habitual delinquent, the organization of a closed milieu of delinquency.” (Foucault 1979: 272).
These ideas have a lot of resonance in infrastructure, the management of which has been heavily criticized leading to a host of solutions which themselves seem to create other types of problems, but also other types of benefits. Good ideas to keep in mind.