CFP: Urban Infrastructure

December 2, 2017

 --Estación Universidad, Mexico City, 2017.


The Second Interdisciplinary Conference

Perspectives on Urban Infrastructure History and the Social Sciences 


Università Ca' Foscari, Venice, Italy


June 11-13, 2018 


Co-sponsored by the Department of Technology, Culture, and Society, NYU Tandon School of Engineering; Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice; NYU Shanghai; and the Department of Urban Studies at The New School.


Theme: The Fragile City: Creation, Expansion, Collapse and Resilience


Recent work in history, anthropology, science and technology studies, media studies, religious studies, geography, resilience/sustainability and other disciplines has explored the multiple social effects of infrastructure. Studies of electric power networks, urban mobility, wireless and other media, aqueducts, roads, railways, and waste disposal systems have examined not only the provision of services to urban residents, but also distributions of political power, embodiments of ritual and religious practice in public space, the social dimensions of specific components of infrastructure, such as water, the organization of capital, contentious claims by and about labor, environmental and distributional inequalities. Climate change and poor choices of building sites have made entire cities vulnerable, as scholars try to understand processes that lead human and non-human "agents" toward natural disaster. 


In Venice, the history of the built, underground, and underwater environment clearly defines the social, political, and religious life of the city, and its lagoon. This makes it an ideal place to contemplate how urban ecological history and infrastructure history can aid and even preserve civic life.


Social histories and ethnographies of public and private infrastructure have demonstrated that infrastructures reshape the lives of their users even as urban residents fight to reshape it to their own ends. This work has revealed both the material grounding of urban social relations and the social life of material infrastructure.


The Fragile City: Creation, Expansion, Collapse and Resilience: The Second Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the History and Social Life of Urban Infrastructure seeks to extend and expand this work. The conference will bring together humanists, social scientists, and those from other disciplines studying urban infrastructure’s past, present, and future. It aims to raise questions including:


1.  How should we understand the role of infrastructural networks and the networks that create and run them, in managing the threats that development and climate change may pose to urban populations?


2.  What is the role of urban infrastructure in shaping community and supporting resilience and rebuilding, and how has this role emerged and evolved over time?


3. How should we understand the role of infrastructural networks in the historical development and daily social, political and religious life of cities?


4. What are the social and cultural dynamics of adapting fragile cities to climate and other environmental change?


5. How has the development of infrastructure shaped the expectations of urban citizenship? What happens when these expectations go unrealized?


6. How does infrastructure produces and reproduce  urban space and power relations?


7. What is the relationship between infrastructure and the organization of urban political power, including issues of citizenship, governmentality, and claims of rights to the city?


8. How have the resource allocations of urban infrastructure reshaped the non-human world, both within and beyond the city?


9. How do infrastructures work to constitute our experience of the city?


10. How do we think about and examine the materialites of urban media infrastructure?


11.  What role can urban ecological history play in reimagining urban infrastructures future and measure the environmental results?


In order to allow comparison of methodologies for the study of infrastructure, the conference aims to include scholars employing ethnographic, quantitative, and archival approaches to the urban infrastructure history of all eras. To enable comparison across time and place, the organizers hope to include scholars working on cities in Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas. We welcome submissions examining both modern and early modern eras. This second symposium follows the first meeting held in Paris, France in 2017.  The conference papers and presentations will be in English.


Papers will be pre-circulated to be read by participants before the conference. Authors will not read papers, but will make a short oral presentation,  followed by two commentators and discussion on the floor.  Therefore, conference papers will be  strictly limited to ten double-spaced pages.  While papers may include appendices and notes beyond ten pages, we will return papers that exceed the page limit.


Those interested in presenting should submit abstracts of no more than 250 words by February 1, 2018 for review by the organizing committee.  Selected papers will then be due by April 1, 2018   There will be a $150 registration fee (waived for graduate students whose papers are accepted).  


Abstracts should be sent to Krysta Battersby, Senior Project Manager, Department of Technology, Culture and Society, NYU Tandon School of Engineering






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