Subversive Mobilities: Infrastructures, Boundary Objects, and Everyday Ecologies of Breaking Borders

The connections between infrastructure development and territorialization of rural and everyday space are widely documented (Rankin et al 2017; Harvey and Knox 2015; Meehan and Rice 2011; Larkin 2008). The materialities of fences and roads, distinct apparatuses of state territorialization, frequently lead to new bureaucratic and socio-ecological formations; and yet, these productions also routinely generate counter-strategies that enable communities subject to new controls to carry on with everyday life (Scott 1999). Recently, political ecologists have advanced thinking on infrastructures as socio-natural assemblage and practice (e.g. Swyngedouw 1999; 2009; Robbins and Marks 2010; Carse and Lewis 2016) and how "natural" assemblages and biophysical environments are also contested border spaces (Peluso 1995; Vandergeest and Peluso 1995; Hirsch 2016; 2017; Nel 2017). While the state-making logics embedded in the production of new infrastructures garner critical attention, the starting point of this panel is instead to consider the political ecologies of infrastructural formations and transgression. Beyond processes of bordering, we ask in what ways do landscapes enable subaltern actors to resist the subjectivities of extra-local control. 


The panel encourages papers that investigate infrastructures and border-making/breaking as socio-natural practices. We seek submissions that examine how social actors navigate and/or disrupt the political economic and biophysical processes that result from infrastructural projects and their effects on human-environment relations. More directly, what are some of the 'weapons of the weak' that mobilize and empower the dispossessed to envision and advance new political possibilities in reaction to external infrastructural impositions? Rather than looking straight at the bureaucratic and physical bordering accomplished by new walls, roads, fences, and taxes, this panel instead explores infrastructural formations as boundary objects (Star 2015) in particular biophysical contexts that inspire new methods and practices of mobility for a range of actors (and across a range of landscapes). Contributing to the broader infrastructural turn in the social sciences (Harvey, Jensen, and Morita 2017), this panel aims to open up and foster new conversations about the political ecologies of infrastructures, mobilities, and resistance. 


We encourage papers and/or creative presentations that engage our proposed theme. The following questions help frame the debate:


-What are the biophysical limits to infrastructure projects and how do such projects circumvent those limits? 


-How do infrastructure projects link different spaces, but also profoundly shape or make places that such projects transverse or enroll? 


-In what ways is the "natural world" seen as a form of infrastructure that is appropriated in state-making projects and how does that conflict or align with "local" uses and visions of nature?  


-How do different actors seek to subvert, challenge, or re-work infrastructures as a site of resistance or re-appropriate those spaces as part of everyday life?


-What kinds of new mobilities result from infrastructure and how do such mobilities facilitate different forms of metabolism? 

-How do political ecologies of infrastructures and their correspondent mobilities intersect with struggles for environmental justice? 

Please submit an abstract of no more than 250 words by November 20, 2017 for consideration. We will communicate decisions about papers selected for the panel by November 23. The registration deadline for conference participants is December 1st. Email questions and/or abstracts to Joel Correia or Galen



Carse, A. and Lewis, J.A. 2016. Toward a political ecology of infrastructure standards: Or, how to think about ships, waterways, sediment, and communities together. Environment and Planning A, 49 no. 1: 9-28.

Harvey,  P., Jensen, C.B., and Morita, A. 2017. Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion, Oxon: Routledge.

Harvey, P. and Knox, H. 2015. Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Hirsch, P. 2016. The shifting regional geopolitics of Mekong dams. Political Geography, 51: 63-74. 

Hirsch, P. 2017. Commentary: Integration, fragmentation, and assemblage in the Mekong: Elaborating on responses to shifting regional geopolitics. Political Geography, 58: 142-144. 

Larkin, Brian. 2008. Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Star, S.L. 2015. Revisiting Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology. In Boundary Objects and Beyond: Working with Leigh Star. Bowker, G., Timmermans, S., Clarke, A., and Balka, E., eds. pp. 13-46. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Meehan, K. and Rice, J. L. 2011. Social Natures. In A Companion to Social Geography. Del Casino, V.J, Thomas, M. E., Cloke, P.,  and Panelli, R., eds. pp. 55-70. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK. DOI: 10.1002/9781444395211.ch4

Nel, A. 2017. Contested carbon: Carbon forestry as a speculatively virtual, falteringly material and disputed territorial assemblage. Geoforum, 81: 144-152.

Peluso, N.L. 1995. Whose woods are these? Counter-mapping forest territories in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Antipode, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.1995.tb00286.x. 

Rankin, K., Sigdel, T., Rai, L., Kunwar, S., and Hamal, P. 2017. "Political Economies and Political Rationalities of Road Building in Nepal." Studies in Nepali History and Society (SINHAS) 22 (1): 43-84.

Robbins, P. and Marks, B. 2010. Assemblage geographies. In The Sage Handbook of Social Geographies. Smith, S.J., Pain, R., Marston, S.A., and Jones III, J.P. eds. pp. 176-194. London: Sage Publications. 

Scott, J.C. 1999. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Swyngedouw, E. 1999. Modernity and Hybridity: Nature, Regeneracionismo, and the Production of the Spanish Waterscape, 1890-1930. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 89 (3): 443-465.

_____. 2009. The Political Economy and Political Ecology of the Hydro-Social Cycle. Journal of Contemporary Water Research and Education, 142: 56-60.

Vandergeest, P. and Peluso, N.L. 1995. Territorialization and state power in Thailand. Theory and Society, 24(3): 385-426.

Please reload