What are the socio-technical systems that associate and differentiate people gathered together in densely populated spaces? Whose interests are represented (politically/symbolically) and what are the potential agencies of structures and representation? How do we re-conceive the “urbanoid” realm across the conventional bifurcation of structures vs. discourse.
On Sep. 2, 2015, CGT member Reinhold Martin, along with CGT members Mamadou Diouf and Brian Larkin, proposed a new research project, stimulated by Mamadou Diouf’s recently co-edited book (with Rosalind Fredericks) “The Arts of Citizenship in African Cities,” on “Infrastructure, Urbanization, Representation,” which, in essence, is a division of topics into two branches incorporating urban studies related to globality: a developmentalist one, focusing on material, technological, and politico-economic processes, and a culturalist one, focusing on symbolic processes, national-cultural imaginaries, language, and so on. The initial response therefore combines three terms, all of which are to be understood critically rather than descriptively:
“Infrastructure” names a critical response to the first tradition that draws on aspects of the second, in that the study of sociotechnical systems that both connect and differentiate populations, and hence, spatio-temporally define cities, focuses on the mediating effects of those systems as active agents.
“Representation” names a critical response to the second tradition that draws on aspects of the first, not only in thinking about whose interests may or may not be “represented,” both politically and symbolically, in any given city; or about the institutions—political or cultural—through which such acts of representation occur; but also about the potential agency of those acts in shaping the polis.
“Urbanization” refers not to some self-evident phenomenon encapsulated in such misstatements as “half the world’s population now lives in cities” but rather, the need to think the urban realm relationally, as bound up with other processes, some of which are traditionally designated as rural, others planetary, on the infrastructural and representational planes, simultaneously.