Universiteit Leiden

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Projecting the Future: Anthropologies of Infrastructure and Urban Space

Friday 10 November 2017
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden


What can infrastructure tell us about what kind of futures await us? How do mega-building projects reshape our idea of politics, space, economic and social values? The goal of this roundtable is to bring together experts and colleagues working on related approaches to urban and regional transformation in the global south, and discuss the theoretical and conceptual advantages and challenges of thinking with and about infrastructure development.

The speakers will draw on their own research and expertise to highlight issues pertaining to the materiality of infrastructure development, genealogies of futurism, urban policy and new private-public funding and governmental assemblages in the global south.

The event is supported by a Seed and Breed Grant from the Leiden University Centre for the Study of Islam and Society (LUCIS).

About the speakers

Convener Cristiana Strava is currently University Lecturer in the Anthropology of the Middle East at the Institute for Area Studies (LIAS). She has worked on the transformation of urban and social spaces in Morocco, in particular, and is interested in the dynamics of social change in the region more generally. Her main areas of research focus on the relationship between urban space, regulatory regimes, and the criminalization of lower class bodies and practices as part of an increasingly neoliberal socio-political landscape. She is currently developing a new project looking at financialisation and the accelerating phenomenon of ‘mega projects’ in North Africa.

Natalia Buier is a research fellow at the Max Planck institute for Social Anthropology in Halle, where she works on the relationship between infrastructure development and financialisation through the case of Spanish high-speed rail (HSR). Contemporary Spain is a paradigmatic case of a financialised economy supported by the development of the construction sector, and infrastructural development has been a key pillar of the latter. Her research argues that studying infrastructure provides a privileged lens for understanding the relationship between public debt, conflicting economic visions and new patterns of capital accumulation.

Andrew Harris is a Lecturer in Urban Studies and Geography at UCL where he convenes an innovative MSc programme in Urban Studies, part of an interdisciplinary initiative at UCL called the Urban Laboratory. He was the primary investigator on an ESRC funded research project between 2009-2010 entitled 'Vertical urbanism: geographies of the Mumbai flyover' and ran an AHRC funded international research network on 'Creative city limits: urban cultural economy in a new era of austerity' between 2011-2012.

Rivke Jaffe is Professor of Cities, Politics and Culture at the Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development Studies and the Centre for Urban Studies within the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research. Her anthropological research focuses primarily on intersections of the urban and the political, and specifically on the spatialization of power, difference and inequality within cities.

Edward Simpson is Professor of Anthropology at SOAS, University of London where he co-founded the Centre for Ethnographic Theory (CET) in 2016 and became Director of the SOAS South Asia Institute (SSAI) in 2017. He is currently interested in the relationship between infrastructure, automobility and the global-sustainability agenda. One of the questions to emerge from the project is: Whatever happened to climate change? His current ERC funded project ROADS explores the politics of infrastructure in South Asia, asking: Why are so many roads being built in South Asia?

Chair Peter Pels is Professor in the Anthropology of Africa at the University of Leiden. He is a specialist in the study of religion and politics in situations of colonial contact, the history of anthropology, the anthropology of magic, and social science ethics. He is currently finishing a book entitled 'The Spirit of Matter. Religion, Modernity and the Power of Objects', and supervises a research project financed by the Dutch National Research Foundation entitled “The Future is Elsewhere: Towards a Comparative History of the Futurities of the Digital ®evolution” (2010-2014).

Practical information

The roundtable is free to attend; no registration is required. 

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