Infrastructure and the earth
DOI link for Infrastructure and the earth
Infrastructure and the earth book
It is sometimes thought that infrastructures are the static and solid base through which things such as people, money and resources can ﬂow. Indeed, for much of the time the existence of infrastructures, such as electricity and telecommunication networks, may be taken for granted. But in practice infrastructures are never as static as they might seem. Infrastructures corrode and crack and shift all the time. Their stability cannot be assumed but needs to be maintained. A working infrastructure needs to be monitored for faults and kept in good repair. It is perhaps not surprising that infrastructures such as railways, pipes, satellites, lights, roads and cables often co-exist with a second order of infrastructure of information production that keeps their movement and transformation within working limits. In this way, infrastructures generate the need for monitoring devices, engineering consultants and security guards who keep more or less close watch on their condition. No wonder that a well-maintained infrastructure is sometimes taken to be an index of good government. When cracks in the infrastructure are noticed, this is a sign that the state or economy itself is not in order (Humphrey 2003). The state of the infrastructure has to be kept visible if it is to endure over time (Barry 2010), while the everyday users of infrastructure need to be alert to the moments and places in which infrastructures may break down. In this chapter, however, I focus on a further aspect of infrastructure.
According to Susan Leigh Star and Karen Ruhleder’s inﬂuential formulation, infrastructures are often built on an ‘installed base’ (Star and Ruhleder 1996). In their account, computer networks, for example, are built on the installed base of the existing telecommunications network. In practice, however, many infrastructures, such as tracks, tunnels and pipes, are built not on an installed base but literally on and into the earth. In this chapter I argue that we need to see the earth, its rocks, soil and water, as integral to the ongoing existence of infrastructure. Infrastructures such as pipes, roads and cables should not be considered a solid and static base in part because they rest on, or are built into, a further base. At the same time, the earth in which infrastructures are embedded is itself neither static nor stable. The earth thus becomes a further source of instability for infrastructures, as well as the infrastructure on which infrastructures are constructed. In broad terms, the stability of infrastructure
depends on the relation and interference between two diﬀerent infrastructural assemblages: the infrastructure and the more-than-human infrastructure of the earth in and on which the infrastructure is assembled (cf. Jensen, this volume). As I have suggested, the existence of infrastructure is likely to be bound up
with the operation of an additional infrastructure of inspection and monitoring. The state of an infrastructure may or may not be routinely inspected, and the failure of monitoring regimes may have catastrophic eﬀects (Barry 2002). But the importance of the relation between infrastructures and the earth introduces a further complexity; for the movements of the earth are often the objects of a further infrastructure of measurement and monitoring by, amongst others, geo-and environmental scientists and engineers. In the context of this layering of infrastructure upon infrastructure, all of them mobile and subject to transformation, I argue that a focus on the relation between infrastructure and earth can contribute to a wider analysis of both the complexity of infrastructure and its politics. In the chapter, I focus on two issues. First, the relation between earth and infrastructure exhibits a series of
complex temporalities. It is well known that the timing of earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes, for example, cannot be predicted precisely, although seismologists and volcanologists may estimate the probability of major events. And it is also widely recognised that volcanoes, fault lines and landslide systems may lie dormant for long periods. In this way, the earth’s activity adds a further complexity to the complexity of infrastructure, catalysing events that may or may not be anticipated, and at timescales that do not correspond to the human timescales of political and economic life. In turn such geophysical events may provoke social and political crises that cannot always be contained. In thinking about the relation between the temporality of socio-technical infrastructures and the geophysics and geochemistry of the earth I draw on the work of William Connolly and Georgina Born, who direct us to consider multiple force ﬁelds or systems, each ‘periodically encountering others as outside forces’ (Connolly 2011: 7, Born 2015). Infrastructure and earth can be understood, in Connolly’s terms, as distinct but interacting force ﬁelds. But, second, the relation between earth and infrastructure also has its own
spatiality. This corresponds neither to the political space of territory nor to the networks associated with the ﬂows of capital and persons or, indeed, the zones formed through the development of technological and regulatory standards (Barry 2006). Seismic faults, for example, may cut across major roads, cables and pipelines. They do not necessarily respect the topology of regions and networks that are the typical product of human activity. Earthquakes shake the foundations of infrastructures, generating catastrophic ruptures at particular sites, not everywhere. The relation between earth and infrastructure is distinctly uneven. It interferes at particular times and places or over extended regions or periods; in this way, it may generate new spaces and sites of politics. In order to give these arguments empirical substance, I want to consider the
importance of a series of disciplines and practices, including geophysics, seismology and hydrogeology. My focus is on Turkey and the South Caucasus
and I discuss, in particular, work carried out by the Nodia Institute for Geophysics in Tbilisi and the Kandilli Earthquake Observatory at Bog˘aziçi University, Istanbul. In this way, the chapter dwells on the relation between earth and infrastructure and the infrastructure of the earth sciences that monitor this relation. As I discuss, the work of the geophysical institutes of Tbilisi and Istanbul both explicitly addresses the stability and environmental sustainability of infrastructures, including bridges, pipes and tunnels, and contributes to their government and politics. I ﬁrst focus on the work of the relation between the North Anatolian fault, the city of Istanbul and the Kandilli Observatory, before turning to consider the relation between the work of the Nodia Institute of Geophysics in Tbilisi, the mountains of the Lesser Caucasus and the structure of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and South Caucasus gas pipelines.