Infrastructure Power, Circulation and Suspension




Circulation, Infrastructure Power, Mobility, Suspension, Urbanization


This brief commentary begins with the premise that infrastructures are not neutral technical platforms upon which more interesting social activities (such as various kinds of mobility) occur. Instead, infrastructures are more productively understood as bundles of socio-technical relations, and these relations shape in often unintended ways the social, political, economic, and environmental effects of infrastructural configurations. Infrastructural power, then, is understood as a relational form of power emergent within infrastructural configurations themselves, rather than simply as pre-existing state power channeled through infrastructures. This approach suggests that mobility is more than just a social construction or an outcome of state policy, but is generated through infrastructural power. Drawing on research on new town development in China, I argue that new patterns of mobility – what I call ‘suspended circulation’ – emerge as effects of the spatial configurations created by infrastructures that have preceded urbanization in these places. These new patterns of mobility involve the continuous circulation of precarious labor throughout ever-expanding spaces of urban development. While this aligns in many ways with the modernist and developmentalist projects of the state, it also indexes a form of material power over which the state has limited control

Author Biography

Tim Oakes, University of Colorado Boulder

Tim Oakes is Professor of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is project director for China Made, an international research collective analyzing China’s infrastructure- ASEAS 16(2) | 303 Tim Oakes driven model of development, particularly in Southeast Asia. He works on patterns of rural urbanization and processes of rural socio-economic and cultural change in contemporary China


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