6th and 7th September, 2018

A workshop sponsored by Urban Geography journal + Urban Institute/SIID at the University of Sheffield

Paula Meth and Jonathan Silver
Beatrice De Carli, Tom Goodfellow, Philip Horn, Juan Miguel Kanai,
Michele Lacione, Melanie Lombard, Victoria Okoye, Gabriel Silvestre, Glyn Williams.

This workshop responds to the growing prominence of infrastructure in understanding urbanisation as a dynamic, open ended and contested process of global transformation. It seeks to reflect on the utility of infrastructure as a problematic in examining cities in-the-making, developed over the last twenty years – whilst reflecting upon the expansive ways in which the term is increasingly mobilised through diverse theoretical and methodological approaches. Across the urbanisation experience infrastructure is arguably the critical materiality in the shaping of urban worlds. The workshop brings together a wide range of scholars to focus on various infrastructures and how they can be understood as practices/processes of urban speculation across multiple scales, geographies, connections and temporalities. Using notions of infrastructure, as a form of speculation in-itself the workshop aims to develop unexpected conversations concerning cities in-the-making and the increasingly speculative ways in which the term ‘infrastructure’ is now being used across urban studies to consider issues such as financialisation, new technologies and everyday life.  The workshop is hosted by the multi-disciplinary urban research community at the University of Sheffield (including Architecture, Geography, Sheffield Institute for International Development, Urban Studies + Planning and the Urban Institute) building upon debates developed by staff that have taken place over the last two years on this topic.

Cities remain in constant flux and movement, shaped by transformations that often emerge as speculative and future orientated and yet remain provisional and open to reconfiguration. From households, in rapidly growing mega-cities, navigating everyday survival through clandestine pipe connections, to ongoing attempts at restructuring moribund economies in the post-industrial city, infrastructure acts as the materiality of urban speculation. These provisional geographies encompass multiple scales, actors and intensities. From the mega-port project aimed at emergent, surging economies to the new mobile app to escape police repression and the repurposed transit system such infrastructures create disruptions to the present socio-technical orderings of cities. Understood collectively as ‘infrastructure’ these materialities, of cities-in-the-making, have become increasingly central in accounts of the urban. The emergence of studies of infrastructure as a critical focus across urban geography has achieved much in helping to elucidate the provisional and multiple contours of urbanisation. Importantly, the use of infrastructure as a key problematic does not end with these visible systems of service provision and connectivity so often explored in the literature. Rather, scholars have taken notions and metaphors of infrastructure to help outline new explanations of cities as ongoing spaces of provisionality, experimentation and speculation. Examining geographical phenomena as diverse as household care and warfare the term has become a useful device through which urban researchers may find common ground to speak across various debates and ways of theorising. The rationale of the workshop is to develop a better comprehension and to understand the functions, forms and politics of the term ‘infrastructure.’ The workshop places infrastructure both at the centre of attempts to understand the city and as conceptual space to rethink the urbanisation process more broadly.