CONFERENCE: Infrastructure: The City as Negotiation between Nature and Power.

Deutsches Studienzentrum in Venedig, 16-17 June 2017.

Infrastructure is a matter of shared concern, a politics in physical form. Tunnels, canals, dams, bridges and fountains – types of infrastructure are easy to enumerate, but their collective effect is more difficult to circumscribe. Contemporary discussions of urbanism favour a consideration of cities as networked entities. However these entities exist against the backdrop of natural constraints that play more than a merely passive role in its fate. The network has its nodes, but its topology ultimately fails to dematerialise the landscape. The railway bridge, for instance, does not merely connect two locations, A to B (and back again), but is also a negotiation between nature and power, between the law and the weather, engineering and gravity. Furthermore, infra-structure almost invariably represents the outcome of a contest between collective interests and private property. Infrastructure presents the history of both the struggles and dependencies between nature and power, and between individuals and groups, in concrete form.

The study of infrastructure is, in multiple senses, central to urbanism. In terms of function, financing, and scale, infrastructure cannot be understood in terms of individual agency. The capital concentrations necessary for the creation of infrastructural projects are beyond the means of the private citizen. In the now classic example of the “Deichgenossenschaft,” Ferdinand Tönnies argued that the shared effort of the construction and maintenance of dikes created the communal basis for Dutch society in the late middle ages. Tönnies argument can be read as a hydropolitical reflection on Hegel’s famous description of the tower of Babylon as a failed attempt at national unification: “it was built in common, and the aim and content of the work was at the same time the community of those who constructed it.” It is not merely that the community comes together to build infrastructure at its centre, but rather, that the building of infrastructure organises a community around it. At best, infrastructure is not merely a service provider, but becomes the basis for new kinds of social interdependency.

The full programme of the conference can be downloaded here.

Concept: Adam Jasper and Stefan Neuner

eikones NCCR Iconic Criticism in cooperation with Deutsches Studienzentrum in Venedig and Pro Helvetia.

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