Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Primary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
Secondary Theme: Resilience
In the era of climate change, the ideal of “resilient” infrastructure is increasingly ascendant among planners, policymakers, development agencies, and activists alike. While interventions bearing this label occasionally include mega-projects, we observe a heightened focus on a more intimate scale of material infrastructure. Private, domestic spaces, including homes and yards, figure prominently in many of the desired arrangements. Home and community-scaled infrastructures, such as rooftop solar panels, in-home wastewater recycling systems, decentralized energy grids, and “clean” cookstoves, are understood as conduits for positive social and material change at multiple, concurrent scales. Individuals and households are imagined as subjects increasingly capable of) withstanding exogenous shocks. Meanwhile, benefits are scripted for the broader infrastructural system, the local environment, and even the climate or society writ large. Developing “resilient” domestic infrastructure, then, is multi-scalar, framed as a solution to problems of not only the individual, but also problems of the population and of a broadly conceived ecology.
Keeping in mind critiques foregrounding the biopolitical dimensions of the “resilience” concept (Evans & Reid 2014), this panel centers questions of politics, scale, and time in its approach to such infrastructural interventions. In keeping with the theme of the meeting, we ask: what new political logics emerge through interventions seeking to produce “resilient” environments and communities and families by reconfiguring the material stuff of domestic space? How are these small intimate changes in the domestic space imagined to affect large scale and systemic change? And how do these projects diverge from (or replicate the effects of) large-scale infrastructures, like dams and large-scale power plants?
A substantive body of literature foregrounds the role of future temporalities in political, developmental, and environmental imaginaries, emphasizing how such visions structure affective and aspirational attachments to many large-scale infrastructures (e.g. Ferguson 1999, Rosenberg & Harding 2005, Mathews & Barnes 2016). Recent work on smaller-scale infrastructures tends to focus on their roles distributing resources among communities, typically in a highly uneven fashion (e.g. Von Schnitzler 2013, Anand 2017). Tracing efforts to produce “resilience” - understood as a both an individual and a systemic quality - through the introduction of new, smaller-scale infrastructures, we explore the temporal rhythms and imaginaries that develop through such projects.
Building on such work, these papers explore peculiarities of and potentials in small infrastructures. On the one hand, small infrastructures encapsulate the idea that material rearrangements for larger transformative changes (whether environmental, social, political, or economic) can begin at home, right now, and applaud the individual or family as a site for immediate agentive action. These actions are rendered particularly important when systemic changes seem hard (or slow) to achieve. However, small infrastructures also embody the idea that individuals, homes, and communities need to take local action to make themselves resilient and protect against precarious futures out of their hands, made uncertain by systemic changes occurring at large timescales out of the realm of human imagination (like climate change). How does the increasing focus on ‘resilience’ at the domestic level preclude or enable systemic changes at other scales?