Simone on Infrastructure in Postcolonial Urban Environments


AbdouMaliq Simone’s “Relational Infrastructure in Postcolonial Urban Worlds” is a book chapter in Infrastructural Lives, and provides a broader context for understanding the art of urban living with emphasis on adjustment, impromptu innovation (or “jugaad“), improvisation with focus on understanding the negotiated and lived experiences of individuals that inhabit these postcolonial urban “worlds.”

Simone’s bottom line appears to be this: contingent and contested approaches to the establishment of relational-material infrastructure reflects the circumstances — and interpretations of those circumstances — as individual attempt to anticipate each other and mitigate risks while gaining access to relevant information and associated opportunities. The net result, we learn, is incremental investment — a “pay-as-you-go” strategy for many people — as they incessantly repair worn-down social and material infrastructure while also being “captivated” — or, in Simone’s terms, captivated captures the notion that individuals will relate to and metabolize their infrastructural surroundings “as-if” those surroundings were otherwise, seeing opportunities, say, in a chance relationship or perhaps seeing an old tire as a group of sandals that have not yet been freed from their previous form.  The outcome appears to be that this results in a good deal of waiting for opportunities to be revealed and, thus, their infrastructural surrounds appear — from the outside — to remain in a semi-permanent state of unfixity or perpetually in an interim phase.

Captivation is Simone’s key term here. Simone’s idea was developed in his 2009 book City Life from Jakarta to Dakar. In the book chapter, the terminology is defined as such:

The incremental then is partly enacted through these momentary captivations. These captivations have nothing to do with making accounts or making things legible, but are a way of paying attention to things as if they were not what they are — seeing one’s neighbors, co-workers as something else and that require a momentary holding in place. As I have written in other publications, these captivations become a way of anticipating what might happen if a person decides to take an unfamiliar course of action (Simone 2009). When we act, we do so only if we have some sense about what is going to happen to us if we do something in a particular way otherwise, we won’t do it. This is why we are hesitant to take risks or do something new. So what I am talking about there is the way that people invent probable outcomes for experimental actions in situations that no longer have a strong relationship to reliable institutions to interpret what is going on. Thus what is involved here are ways of making connections among people and ways of doing things that don’t seem to go together. This, then, opens up possibilities for individual residents to make new affiliations and collaboration, and take risks with them.

This does seem to capture the recent emphasis on adjustment, improvisation, and so on, with the added emphasis on relationality and risk-mitigation, and also provides a somewhat satisfying explanation of “stasis” in this otherwise dynamically depicted environment.

*Picture is from:

4 thoughts on “Simone on Infrastructure in Postcolonial Urban Environments

  1. Pingback: Feral Urbanism w/ AbdouMaliq Simone | synthetic zero

  2. Pingback: Infrastructural Lives, Reviewed | Installing (Social) Order

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