The Mobility of Infrastructure
Time & LocationSession 11
Fri 13:30–15:00 Room 1.103
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- A Brief History of Lao Infrastructure: Looking Back and Far Ahead Hans Lipp Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen
Doing research about the past of Lao infrastructure there are not so many written sources available. Most of the documented Lao infrastructural history began in 19th century with French colonial administration integrating kingdoms and principalities into French Indochina. Existing structures and planning have been mostly based on the country's integration into what was formerly seen to be the regional French sphere of interests. Today, the game has changed and so have the players. Technological options are different and so are the needs of economy, both national and supra-regional. This paper asks: What does the infrastructural future of one of the world's poorest economies currently look like? What role do emerging economic neighbors and international super powers play to shape the future of a country romanticized by writers as a kind of Shangri La, Laos is experiencing a fast growing population, as well as environmental and economic change. To what extent is it possible for the population to participate in infrastructural change in the face of weak structures of civil society?
- Hijacking Area Studies: Ethnographic Approaches to Southeast Asian Airlines Jane Ferguson Australian National University
Area Studies, by definition, conjure ideas of emplaced knowledge; in-depth interdisciplinary understanding of language, history, culture and politics of a nation or region. Where detractors might see this approach as overly empirical, therefore precluding theoretical sophistication, others argue that “places” are either artificially constructed, or that processes of globalisation have obliterated the cultural zone. But what if we turn an ethnographic eye to those very processes and technologies themselves? Can Area Studies take to the air, and if so, what are the attendant challenges and benefits? Based on ethnography amongst airline customer service workers, ground and cabin crews in Thailand and Myanmar, this research examines the airline cabin as a field for ethnographic study, and as an emplaced site for political and cultural processes. With participant observation-based knowledge of Southeast Asian cabin crews, interview material with cabin crew and hijackers, this paper examines the 1990 hijack of Thai Airways TG 305 from an emplaced cultural perspective.
- Mobile Technologies and Their Inequalities: The Export of Platte to Vietnam Christina Schwenkel University of California, Riverside
This paper examines the production of new infrastructural spaces in postwar Vietnam through North-South technology transfers between socialist countries. There is arguably no other construction material more ubiquitous in Southeast Asia than cement. As a marker of modernity, cement is the primary ingredient in concrete, the technology most often used in public infrastructure projects to construct major highways, dams, bridges, and housing. Cement is not only a technical or alchemical substance, but also a political matter: it has been used to build empires and utopias, as well as to subvert them. Historically, cement has operated as a technology of subjectification in some instances, and that of liberation in others. In this paper, I examine the export of concrete technologies to Vietnam by the GDR as part of its modernist fantasy to build a new society in the global South though prefabricated panel technologies, or Platte. Vast power asymmetries underpinned these transfers, which were framed as projects of horizonal solidarity. Focusing on Vinh City, I show how concrete served as a binding agent to draw materials, people, and visions together into new social and infrastructural arrangements that were fraught with gender and racial inequalities.
Studies of infrastructure that have grown exponentially in the humanities and social sciences in recent years have been much less pronounced in research on Southeast Asia. This panel asks how “infrastructure” as method, theory, and object of inquiry might be a fruitful site for the investigation of contemporary Southeast Asian societies undergoing rapid social, political, and economic change. It proposes to do so through the conceptual framework of mobility in order to think in more multifaceted ways about the spatiality and temporality of modern infrastructures in Southeast Asia today. In the literature, infrastructures are typically identified as built material systems—both technical and social—that facilitate the movement of capital, people, goods, technologies, and services, also across borders. This approach tends to privilege fixed nodes in larger nested systems. Here, presenters shift the analysis to mobilities and circulations across time and space to bring an attention to infrastructure as process: of becoming and undoing, of constitution and reconstitution, of materiality and immateriality. This analytical focus allows other types of geographically dispersed or discontinuous infrastructure to emerge as sites of inquiry: digital, migrant, and financial infrastructures, for example, to encourage new conversations about colonial and postcolonial histories of infrastructural power and violence. Panelists will bring multi-disciplinary perspectives and methods from across peninsular and mainland Southeast Asia—including trans-Asian linkages between Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia—to bear on the ways mobility refracts gendered, racialized, and classed relations of power that underpin public-private infrastructures and their associated state and non-state actors.