Social infrastructures and the public life of cities: materialities, institutions, and practices.
Organisers: Alan Latham and Jack Layton (University College London, UK)
Key Words: Public space, infrastructure, sociality, materiality, justice, and democracy.
Cities are full of infrastructures. Full of infrastructures designed to deal with power and water, transport and communication, building and trading — all of which enable the activity of cities to take place (Amin and Thrift, 2017; Latham and Wood, 2015). It is important to account for the social dimensions of these infrastructures. In geography and urban studies this has often meant thinking about how infrastructures are in all sorts of ways sites of political and social action (Graham, 2010; Kooy and Bakker, 2008), or even how human activity can be thought of as a kind of infrastructure itself (Simone, 2004). However it also means thinking about the places, regulations, and institutions that give rise to and facilitate social activity (Jackson, 2018; Koch and Latham, 2013; Koch, 2015; Sendra, 2015). In other words, thinking about the social infrastructures that facilitate public life. As Eric Klinenberg (2018) has recently argued, the social infrastructures of cities — places like libraries, parks, and public transport — are essential for building community, cooperation, and common purpose. Given a political context of polarisation and financial constraint, understanding how social infrastructures work, the effect they have, and the pressures they are under, is an essential task for those interested in making cities around the world more convivial and more equitable places to live.
In this session we would like to examine the social infrastructures of cities around the world and the contribution they make to the public life of cities. This topic sits at the intersection of a number of issues geographers are well placed to address. Social infrastructures are made up of all sorts of more-than-human elements, allowing for an exploration of the way different materials, environments, and technologies can facilitate different kinds of social and public activity (Amin, 2008; Askins and Pain, 2011). And attending to social infrastructure also invites research that is sensitive to the range of affectual and social activity that different facilities give rise to (Rose et al, 2010; Bissell, 2018; Wilson, 2013; Cloke and Conradson, 2018); what kinds of social life does a library facilitate (Mattern, 2014)? And what kinds of sociality and public-ness can be found in facilities like gyms, cafes, parks, or shopping malls (Neal, et al. 2015; Watson, 2015)? Moreover, social infrastructures are often at the centre of disputes about the public life of cities — how should libraries and parks be funded? Who gets to participate in decision making processes about these facilities? What gets designed and provided? And who has access to them? These are the issues of justice and democracy that are at the heart of providing social infrastructures. As Barnett (2018) has argued close attention to situated experiences of injustice should be an important terrain of geographical enquiry.
The list of topics we are interested in includes but is not limited to:
Empirical research on facilities like libraries, parks, gyms, swimming pools, museums, and community centres
Mobility and public life
Responses in the face of austerity
The politics of community involvement
Innovations in use and provision
New sites of conviviality
New ways of thinking about public-ness
The materiality of public life
Those interested in participating are invited to send abstracts (<250 words) to Alan Latham ([log in to unmask]) and Jack Layton ([log in to unmask]) by 17th October 2018.
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Jackson, E (2018) Valuing the bowling alley: Contestations over the preservation of spaces of everyday urban multiculture in London. The Sociological Review, April 2018, https://doi.org/10.1177/0038026118772784
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Sendra P (2015) Rethinking urban public space: Assemblage thinking and the uses of disorder. City 19(6): 820-836.
Simone, A (2004) People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3): 407-429.
Watson, S (2015) Mundane Objects in the City: Laundry Practices and the Making and remaking of Public/Private Sociality and Space in London and New York. Urban Studies 52(5): 876-890.
Wilson, HF (2013) Collective life: Parents, playground encounters and the multicultural city. Social & Cultural Geography 14(6): 625-648.
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