CFP: Pipes, People, and Politics: Dis/Unconnected Urban Infrastructure and Community Responses

“Pipes, People, and Politics: Dis/Unconnected Urban Infrastructure and Community Responses”
American Anthropological Association (AAA) Annual Meeting, 2013
Meeting theme: Future Publics, Current Engagements
November 20 – 24, 2013
Chicago, IL

Session Organizers: Lucero Radonic and Angela Storey, The University of Arizona.

Waste water treatment plant.

Waste water treatment plant.

Be it formal or informal, large-scale or small-scale, present or absent, urban infrastructure is a significant component of how people experience space, relate to the state, and come to interact with each other. Infrastructure is fundamentally both ecological and relational in that it assembles meaning in relation to organized practices. Thus, as a growing area of anthropological investigation, urban infrastructure provides the opportunity for connections across linguistic, social, theoretical, and applied concerns.

A recent special issue of _Ethnography_ (2012) focusing on urban infrastructure argues that deep-rooted social inequalities are “often naturalized, made invisible, or made to seem inevitable, by the walls, pipes, wires, and roads that profoundly shape our urban environments” (Ferguson 2012: 559). With this concern at heart, the issue’s authors propose the concept of “infrastructural violence” to study the brute materiality of forms of exclusion and deprivation brought about and built into infrastructure. Indeed, to study a city and neglect its pipes, sewers, gas connections, and power supplies is to miss an essential aspect of distributional justice and power planning (Latour and Herman 1998). Equally important is to consider that by studying infrastructure we can identify important sites for local innovation, collective organization, group mobilization, alternative technologies, and even expert development. In this AAA session we intend to build upon this perspective by focusing on varied responses from communities that are unconnected/disconnected from urban infrastructure projects.

We invite critical perspectives that advance an anthropological understanding of infrastructure as both an object and a socio-political process. We seek a thematically and geographically diverse array of papers focusing on the responses of urban communities to infrastructural exclusion, either in terms of exclusion from specific projects or as broadly writ urban marginality. Papers may address community responses that are technological, social, political, or economic in nature; those that originate within a community or are imposed from outside actors; those either successful or unsuccessful at mitigating infrastructural exclusions; those configured directly/intentionally as responses to exclusion or those not. Papers by the panel organizers will investigate alternative water catchment and distribution in Mexico, and social movements organizing for sanitation services in South Africa.

Please submit your abstract to the session organizers Lucero Radonic ( and Angela Storey ( by March 31, 2013.