Infrastructural futures across cities of the global north

An international workshop funded by The University of Manchester, the University of Toronto and the Urban Studies Foundation.

The first event in this series of activities took place in Manchester in September 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 event in Philadelphia was postponed and will now take place in the summer of 2021.

The University of Manchester, UK, 19-20 September 2019

Organisers: Theresa Enright (University of Toronto), Mike Hodson (University of Manchester), Hamil Pearsall (Temple University), Jonathan Silver (University of Sheffield), Kevin Ward (University of Manchester) and Alan Wiig (University of Massachusetts, Boston)

Plenary speakers: Matti Siemiatycki (University of Toronto), Mimi Sheller (Drexel University), Wendy Steele (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT)).

Port of Philadelphia, Packer Avenue Marine Terminal
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Infrastructure is a concept over which many disciplines claim intellectual ownership. This includes those in the environmental and medical, as well the social, sciences. Within the latter we can include anthropology, architecture, business, economics, geography, history, planning, political science and sociology. While for some of these disciplines the interest in infrastructure is long standing, for others it is a more recent development, where there has been something akin to an “infrastructural turn” (Dodson, 2015: 87). In recent years, one area in which insights from a number of these disciplines converge and overlap is on infrastructure and urbanization. As cities are increasingly understood as sites – in both a territorial and a networked sense – through which planetary futures are being made and remade, there appears some utility in using “infrastructure” as a lens onto the dynamic, open-ended, relationally-constituted and variegated process of urbanization.

On the one hand, as part of this “turn”, we have witnessed a growth in studies of the different kinds of infrastructure that maintains, nourishes, supports, sustains and underwrites the urban system, while, of course, being constitutive of it. On the other hand, there has also emerged a parallel discussion on infrastructure qua infrastructure, and specifically, on the ways in which the term infrastructure might itself be used most productively. So, for Appel et al. (2015: np) infrastructure is, “a productive metaphor—for critical theory and the analysis of social life more broadly”, for Carse (2016: 28) it is a collective noun that “refers to the subordinate parts of many projects, from the built systems that move water, sewage, people, and power to components assembled under the rubrics of security, information, health, finance, political mobilization, and environmental management”, while for Wiig and Silver (2019: 2) they understand it as verb, incorporating “the making, maintaining, and use of infrastructure in the reordering of world economy and city-regions.”

This thinking through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities, the nature of its relationship with urbanization and how this might involve, and perhaps even necessitate, a rethinking of the concept itself, is the focus of this two day workshop. The workshop takes its geographical focus as the global north, where starting in the 1990s but building upon significantly longer trajectories in some cases, cities have sought out infrastructural strategies of being in the world as a way to render themselves, and the nations of which they are part, globally competitive.

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Within this frame, the goals of the workshop are as follows:

  • To bring into conversation work in infrastructure studies and urban studies in order to develop new conceptual frameworks and understandings concerning global, urban transformation;
  • To articulate new methodologies for researching infrastructure, drawing upon contributions from across the social sciences;
  • To support earlier-in-career researchers from across urban studies through encouraging their involvement in shaping the future of studying infrastructure


The full programme, including the schedule, venue information and abstracts, is available as a PDF via the link below.