Beginning in May 2018, the Infrastructural Inequalities reading group aims to connect issues related to Indigenous housing in Australia with wider fields concerned with infrastructures, including the anthropology of the state and policy making, environmental humanities, cultural studies, science and technology studies, and cultural theory. Discussion is organised by broad and provisional bi-monthly themes, including architecture, water, waste, words, and wires.
The reading group is next meeting in May 2019 on the topic of “Words”. See below for details of the schedule. All are welcome to join; however, please send us an advance email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know that you’re coming.
Tuesday May 7th at 3:30-5:00 p.m.
then usually the first Tuesday of every month
Venue details: Kevin Lee Room, Level 6, Main Quadrangle Building, University of Sydney, Camperdown Campus
Watch from afar on YouTube (click here)
Readings will be available at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled session.
We suggest the following as useful preparation for the group:
- ‘The Healthy Living Practices.’
- Laurie, Victoria. 2011. ‘Home Improvement: Indigenous Housing.’ The Monthly. 11 June.
- Povinelli, Elizabeth A. 2008. ‘The Child in the Broom Closet: States of Killing and Letting Die.’ South Atlantic Quarterly. 107(3): 509-530.
- Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. 2015. ‘2. The House that Jack Built: Britishness and White Possession’ in The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty, (19-32). University of Minnesota Press.
About these readings: The Housing for Health Incubator is partnered with Healthabitat, a not-for-profit company focused on improvements in the material conditions of housing for Indigenous people and other disadvantaged groups. Healthabitat developed the highly regarded Housing for Health method, which is the basis of their survey-fix work on behalf of housing safety and nine Healthy Living Practices that housing should support. Victoria Laurie’s essay in The Monthly provides a background to Healthabitat’s work, including the central role played by the late Kunmanara Lester and the formidable Paul Pholeros, along with fellow original and continuing directors Paul Torzillo and Stephan Rainow. Laurie’s essay locates this on-the-ground work in the broader context of Federal policy on remote Indigenous housing, which is now approaching the conclusion of the National Agreement on Remote Housing (formerly NPARIH) and ongoing funding uncertainty outside of the Northern Territory. Elizabeth Povinelli’s essay develops a distinction between the forms of lethality of state killing and letting die as one way we might understand the perennial threat of funding reduction and withdrawal and the connection to the unspectacular suffering and slow death of marginalised people. So too the entrenched low expectations for policy success and material standards in Indigenous housing, such as aims to reduce overcrowding to levels that would remain well above acceptable measures in Australia’s urban centres. Finally, Aileen Moreton-Robinson’s chapter details how settler-colonialism and whiteness are ongoing projects that require symbolic and material reenactments, including by academic disciplines, to deny Indigenous sovereignty. Anticipating the reading group sessions to come, and more specifically the relations between contemporary tenure arrangements, housing provision, and extractive industry, the readings pose a shared question: on what do good lives depend and for whom?
Infrastructure / Housing / Policy / Indigeneity
Readings for discussion:
- Lea, Tess and Pholeros, Paul. 2010. ‘This is Not a Pipe: The Treacheries of Indigenous Housing.’ Public Culture. 22(1): 187-209.
- Larkin, Brian. 2013. ‘The Politics and Poetics of Infrastructure.’ Annual Review of Anthropology. 42: 327-43.
- Genevieve Murray and Joel Sherwood-Spring, ‘Spatial Dynamics of Resistance’
- Graham, Stephen. 2010. ‘When Infrastructures Fail.’ In Stephen Graham (ed.) Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails, 1-27. Routledge: New York and London.
- Rodgers, Dennis and O’Neill, Bruce. 2012. ‘Infrastructural violence: Introduction to the special issue.’ Ethnography. 13(4): 401-412. 10(5): 364-374.
About these readings: Our first reading group session is an opportunity to discuss our key themes and concepts and to establish some collective interests for the months ahead. After this initial session on ‘infrastructure’ we anticipate holding two monthly sessions on each of architecture, water, wires, waste, and words. We hope that group members will lead the second session related to each of those themes, drawing on their own expertise and research and the group’s shared interests.
The idea of infrastructural inequalities is influenced by Healthabitat’s conception of housing as ‘health hardware’. How does the materiality of housing – the affordances to wash people, wash clothes and bedding, remove waste water safely, store and cook food, and so on – bear on the health and well-being of householders? Or, how does housing that is insufficient in quantity and of inadequate quality contribute to health inequality? Tess Lea and Paul Pholeros’s article examines the outcomes of Indigenous housing policies proclaimed as successes in press releases and inside the carpet-lands of bureaucracies. On the ground, pipes are disconnected from systems that would safely remove waste water but connected to systems of audit and administration, and sheds masquerade as houses: the non-houses of policy delivery. Determining who or what has failed, and where and how, in the chains of policy formulation, planning, industrial design, contracting, procurement, construction, and maintenance, is the necessary challenge of developing better Indigenous housing outcomes. Blithe responses blame ‘the government’, or more often, and incorrectly, Indigenous householders (see https://goo.gl/PjK3oR).
The Housing for Health Incubator and Snack Syndicate, as co-organisers of this group, are interested in locating housing in relation to other systems that bear on householders’ health outcomes. Drawing on the article by Brian Larkin, we take a broad understanding of infrastructure, as ‘material forms that allow for the possibility of exchange over space’, and which facilitate and impede social action and networks. Housing for low-income earners, whether in urban or remote contexts, is likely to suffer from inadequate investment in adjacent infrastructures such as accessible public transport systems, reliable energy grids, healthy food provision and reliable and safe water supplies, and municipal services. Such housing is also more likely to be co-located with infrastructures that are undesirable for residential property values and variously toxic to householders, such as proximity to water and waste treatment facilities, electricity plants, land-fills, freeways, flight paths, swamps, and industrial zones. Larkin’s seminal article provides an erudite overview of different approaches to infrastructure, on behalf of our future sessions, and shares with Lea and Pholeros an anthropological orientation toward sites of governmental decision-making and practice, along with users of infrastructures themselves. The additional readings draw attention, respectively, to breakdown and repair as the typical, rather than exceptional, state of infrastructure (Graham 2010), and to the differentiated distribution of this experience, under conditions of ‘infrastructural violence’ (Rodgers and O’Neill 2012). Genevieve Murray and Joel Sherwood-Spring describe the emergence of the Future Planning Centre and collective political action that responds to ongoing gentrification in Redfern and Waterloo.
Housing / Design / Construction / Repair & Maintenance / Crowding / Precarity / Abandonment
Readings for Discussion:
- Dillon, Jane and Savage, Mark. 2003. “House design in Alice Springs town camps.” In Paul Memmott (ed.) Housing Design in Aboriginal Australia. 40-48.
- Sullivan, Esther. 2014. “Halfway homeowners: Eviction and forced relocation in a Florida manufactured home park.” Law & Social Inquiry. 39(2): 474-497.
- Fennell, Catherine. 2011. “‘Project heat’ and Sensory Politics in Redeveloping Chicago Public Housing.” Ethnography. 12(1): 40-64.
- Aboriginal Housing NT. “Housing Forum 2018.” http://www.amsant.org.au/apont/our-work/forums/housing-forum-2018/
- Pholeros, Paul and Phibbs, Peter. 2012. “Constructing and maintaining houses.” Closing the gap clearinghouse. Resource sheet no. 13. 1-19.
- Lea, Tess. 2012. “Ecologies of Development on Groote Eylandt.” Australian Humanities Review. 53 (November).
- Wilson, Ara. 2016. “The Infrastructure of Intimacy.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 41(2): 247-280.
- Hinkson, Melinda. 2017. “Precarious Placemaking.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 46: 49-64.
In this ‘June – Architecture’ session we are experimenting with streaming a live feed of the reading group (link to be added). Those who can are encouraged to join the discussion in person, but anyone who is located elsewhere is welcome to listen in and submit their thoughts or questions for discussion beforehand. Following conversation in our inaugural ‘May – Infrastructure’ session we’re interested in establishing ongoing consideration of methodological questions related to how we might research, write about, and otherwise represent infrastructural inequalities of different kinds. As the first of two sessions dedicated to architecture, we’re also interested in how we might structure the second (July) session differently, including as a collaborative discussion organised in relation to texts or objects contributed by group members. See ‘July – Architecture’ below for a potential format, open for discussion in our ‘June – Architecture’ session.
About these readings: What does affordable housing look like? Affordable housing advocacy understandably prioritises the issue of supply: more housing is needed for more people. Architectural questions are equally important. Housing design and construction significantly impact on subsequent repair and maintenance requirements and on householders’ utilities expenses. Affordability should not only be determined by original construction costs or rental payments relative to income, but by the total ongoing costs for housing authorities and home owners to maintain the function of housing stock as health hardware. For Graham and Thrift, ‘Architectures are morphogenetic figures forged in time, tacking against a general entropic tendency’. Things falls apart; anticipating when, how, and why are important architectural considerations.
Architectural problems are not simply a matter of austerity politics leading policies that trade quality design and repair and maintenance budgets to reduce total spending. Developing models of appropriate affordable housing design, as for all architecture, involves complex intersections between aesthetic, functional, material, and cost considerations. The mode of delivery – public, market, or public-private partnership – can bear on housing design, including whether vernacular styles are incorporated or generic designs are reproduced across disparate locations. The development of specific technologies, such as active cooling systems for homes, also contributes to the universalising tendency of house design, as well as to the geography of housing construction and to normalising householder desires, including regarding thermal comfort. In Australia, architectural standardisation has underpinned strategies for modular housing to be centrally manufactured and assembled on-site, with mixed results as construction contends with the more-than-human challenges of building in tropical and desert environments. In the United States, the circulation of manufactured housing undermines its advertised mobility; materials stretch, fracture, and degrade such that housing becomes stuck, while homeowners’ mobility is forced through eviction.
This is the first of two sessions dedicated to the theme of architecture. Building on our prior readings and discussion around infrastructure, we are interested here in the consideration given to architecture by policy approaches to affordable housing provision, in Indigenous housing in Australia and elsewhere. The readings for discussion describe different styles of affordable housing design – individual houses in town camps, mobile homes, and modernist public housing towers – that provide affordances for particular social relations, pedagogies for modes of everyday living, and demands and responsibilities for householders as tenants and citizens. Jane Dillon and Mark Savage’s short chapter outlines design considerations for building houses in the town camps of Alice Springs, which is timely given the recently released Town Camps Review. Esther Sullivan’s article describes how manufactured, or ‘mobile’, housing expands home ownership but not necessarily housing security, which as in remote Indigenous communities (albeit differently) requires control of the land on which housing is located. Catherine Fennell’s article connects shifts in public housing design to broader patterns in welfare reform and identifies the withdrawal of repair and maintenance services as a strategy of abandonment to hasten the justification for policy change. Background readings summarise important factors for consideration in the construction and maintenance of Indigenous housing in Australia and preliminary outcomes from the NT Aboriginal Housing Forum (March 2018). For those who are especially keen, the further readings provide additional material for theorising infrastructure and precarity, as well as case studies of architectural failure in Australian housing provision. Together, these readings frame housing as a material assemblage that produces ongoing design and repair challenges, as environments act on buildings and buildings organise the actions of tenants, tradespeople, policy makers, and others.
Home / Design / Construction / Rebuilding / Climate Change / Settler Colonialism
Reading for discussion:
- Schlunke, Katrina. 2016. “Burnt houses and the haunted home: Reconfiguring the ruin in Australia.” In Nicole Cook, Aidan Davison and Louise Crabtree (eds) Housing and home unbound: Intersections in economics, environment and politics in Australia. 218-231. Routledge: Abingdon and New York.
About the reading: Drawing on the conversations that have taken place in the May and June sessions, this second architecture session is organised around the texts and objects contributed by participants. The chapter by Katrina Schlunke follows those focused on affordable housing design by Dillon and Savage, Sullivan, and Fennell, and provides an alternative style for interrogating questions of home, rebuilding, climate change, and settler colonialism, that might inform individual contributions. We encourage everyone to bring a short text or object to prompt collective discussion that connects with the conversations we’ve had together so far. This might include a photograph, newspaper article, popular media example, policy, art object, memory, family treasure, and so on. Be creative, and bring a question for the group.
A few examples:
- Carmen Argote. ‘720 sq. ft. Household mutations.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2tpn-Pq230
- Keg de Souza, incl. ‘Living under the stars’. http://www.kegdesouza.com/portfolio/living-under-the-stars/
- Miriam Charlie. ‘No country, no home.’ https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4496/miriam-charlie-no-country-no-home/
- Open Mike Eagle. 2017. ‘Brick Body Complex’. Brick Body Kids Still Daydream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQxXubLTIBw
Themes and objects
Under-supply / Rationing / Infrastructure / Repair & Maintenance / Audit / Publics / Contamination
Readings for discussion:
- Anand, Nikhil. 2015. “Leaky states: Water audits, ignorance, and the politics of infrastructure.” Public Culture. 27(2): 305-330.
- Cohen, Daniel Aldana. 2016. “The rationed city: The politics of water, housing, and land use in drought-parched Sao Paulo.” Public Culture. 28(2): 261-289.
- Maddocks, Tom. 2016. “Aboriginal community of Yuelamu fears town’s only water supply may run dry.” ABC. 28 June. https://goo.gl/voqpH6
- Macpherson, Elizabeth, et al. 2016. “Water in northern Australia: a history of Aboriginal exclusion.” The Conversation. 2 August. https://goo.gl/XXwnLz
- Lea, Tess. 2015. “What has water got to do with it? Indigenous public housing and Australian settler-colonial relations.” Settler Colonial Studies. 5(4): 375-386.
- Günel,Gӧkce. 2016. “The infinity of water: Climate change adaptation in the Arabian Peninsula.” Public Culture. 28(2): 291-315.
- Gandy, Matthew. 2004. “Rethinking urban metabolism: Water, space and the modern city.” City. 8(3): 363-379.
- Murphy, Michelle. 2017. “Alterlife and decolonial chemical reactions.” Cultural Anthropology. 32(4): 494-503.
The ‘September – Water’ session is the first of two monthly discussions on water. As in the two meetings dedicated to Architecture, the first session is organised around set readings, while the second (in October) is primarily led by the contributions of participants, with short readings provided as examples and provocations.
About these readings: In Healthabitat’s Housing for Health methodology (see Preliminary Reading), water is fundamental to many key healthy living practices: washing people, washing clothes and bedding, removing waste water safely, and so on. Implementing such practices requires, at the very least, reliable supply. Yet ABS data indicates that over half of Australia’s Indigenous remote communities experience interruptions to their water supply. As Maddocks describes of Yuelamu in the Northern Territory, such interruptions can be caused by discrete events such as an algal bloom following a bird migration. But under-supply is more typically an outcome of local demand, infrastructural leakages, and reduced availability, such as through the drying out of groundwater sourced via local bores. Responses to undersupply include time-based restrictions, infrastructural development, higher pricing, and public education for citizens, while such programs are implemented alongside the parceling of vast water allocations for other purposes, such as agriculture and extraction. Earlier this year, Cape Town’s repeated revision of and flirtation with “Day Zero” – when the city would turn off the taps – was understood as a harbinger of generalised governance challenges for water sustainability and justice in the unfolding twenty-first century.
Even when reliably supplied, water provides its own challenges to the domestic infrastructure required for healthy living. Hard water causes scaling which produces clogging, leaks, and breakdown. In Areyonga, for example, health hardware such as hot water systems, taps, and shower heads require replacement every two years, due to the groundwater’s high mineral content. Water is also responsible for catalysing moulds, rusts, and cracks through which other non-human agents enter homes. Of course, the ability of householders to address such failures depends on the legal and bureaucratic infrastructures that define their tenancy (see Session 2). Houses are defined by such documentary systems, while also forming material nodes within wider public (and increasingly privatised) infrastructural networks, including those which facilitate the flows between the dam, river, bore and domestic taps. These systems are also expensive to upkeep and ageing, prompting creative solutions from cash-strapped governments, such as the shift to use the water from the Flint River for that city’s drinking water. The resulting lead contamination – an effect of inadequate treatment and leaching from old pipes – signals the difficulty of maintaining and delivering water that is safe and palatable, both in practical terms but also where scientists, bureaucrats, and politicians are not aligned in the delivery of water as a public good. The relations, practices, and knowledge that emerged amongst Flint’s citizens in relation to the city’s failure constitute the formation of a hydraulic public, itself illustrative of the generative potential of all shared infrastructures.
The readings set for discussion examine the role of the state in managing water resources in two mega-cities: Mumbai and So Paulo. Nikhil Anand considers how the technology of government audit, employed in the context of supposed scarcity, depends on professional estimations regarding subterranean infrastructures and their liquid flows. Anand shows that the ignorance on which such estimations depend is itself central to the system’s function and the state’s legitimacy over its management: facilitating informal access and generating construction and expansion work. Daniel Aldana Cohen examines how housing, land use, and topography influence the differentiated access to water for communities in São Paulo’s peripheries, and how the privatisation of water provision bears on any attempt to institute rationing or redistribution. Cohen describes conflicts that have emerged between environmental and housing advocates and what a politics of collective consumption could look like. The background readings provide examples of water scarcity and exclusion in northern Australia, and in particular Lea makes a case for policy ecologies (opposed to policy teleologies) that include from the outset the agential role and dynamic effects of water in housing projects. Amongst the further readings, Gӧkce Günel examines technological and policy approaches to climate change adaptation in the Arabian Peninsula, including the role of desalination in fostering a fantasy of water’s infinity; Matthew Gandy provides a history of the establishment of the “bacteriological city”, which established much of the infrastructure now subject to dilapidation or privatisation; and Michelle Murphy describes the temporal geographies of industrial contamination, and examines how scholars might critically approach communities disproportionately subject to such banal catastrophes, as a lead-in to session 5.
Themes and objects
Bodies / Writing and Representation / Rights and Recognition / Politics
Reading for discussion:
- Neimanis, Astrida. 2009. “Bodies of water”. In J. Knechtel (ed.) Water: Alphabet City No. 14. 82-91. MIT Press: Cambridge.
- Verdin, Monique. 2013. “Ebb and Flow”. In Rebecca Solnit and Rebecca Snedeker (eds) Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. 19-24. University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles.
About the reading: Drawing on the conversations in the group so far, the second session on water returns to the format adopted in session 3 on architecture, primarily organised around the objects contributed by participants. The short essays by Astrida Neimanis and Monique Verdin follow the articles focused on water and infrastructure by Nikhil Anand and Matthew Gandy, and offer different models for how we might understand and represent the forms of embodiment, relationality, and identity that water engenders. We encourage everyone to submit a short text or object to prompt collective discussion that connects with these readings and the discussions we’ve had on infrastructural inequalities thus far. This might include a photograph, newspaper article, popular media example, policy or press release, art object, memory, family treasure, and so on. Be creative, and bring a question for the group. Please submit your contributions to email@example.com a week before the group is scheduled to meet (October 2nd for October 9th) and I will upload these to the shared dropbox folder.
A few examples:
- NT Government. 31 January 2017. “Precautionary Advice for Drinking Water – Yarralin Community.” http://mediareleases.nt.gov.au/mediaRelease/22775
- 2017. Poisoned Water. NOVA. http://www.pbs.org/video/poisoned-water
- Jack Green. “FIFO Fly in Fuck Off. How govt talks with us.” https://twitter.com/OpenCut2017/status/968247489156472832
- Waterworld. 1995. Kevin Reynolds (Dir.). Universal Pictures. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpKbULrB9Z8
- 2018. Water is Life. https://banfracking-aycc.nationbuilder.com/film
Themes and objects
Design / Management / Governance / Consumption / Extraction / Time / Decolonisation
Readings for discussion:
- Ureta, Sebastian. 2016. “Caring for waste: Handling tailings in a Chilean copper mine.” Environment and Planning A. 48(8): 1532-1548.
- Bird Rose, Deborah. 2003. “Decolonizing the discourse of environmental knowledge in settler societies.” In Gay Hawkins and Stephen Muecke (eds) Waste and culture: The creation and destruction of value, 53-72. Boulder, CO: Rowman and Littlefield.
- “B3. Removing waste water safely” and “How a bathroom fails to function.” In Housing for Health: The guide. https://goo.gl/JRPozB https://goo.gl/k4Fvbz
- Bardon, Jane. 2017. “McArthur River mine: Environmental concerns deepen over Glencore’s expansion plan.” ABC. 7 June. https://goo.gl/ie4CAX
- Reno, Joshua. 2015. “Waste and waste management.” Annual Review of Anthropology. 44: 557-572.
- Clark, Nigel and HIrd, Myra J. 2013. “Deep shit.” O-Zone: A Journal of Object-Oriented Studies. Autumn(1): 44-52.
- Hawkins, Gay. 2007. “Waste in Sydney: Unwelcome returns.” PMLA. 122(1): 348-51.
- Pascoe, Bruce. 2014. Dark Emu. Black seeds: agriculture or accident? Broome: Magabala Books.
- Junka-Aikio, Laura and Cortes-Severino, Catalina. 2017. “Cultural studies of extraction.” Cultural Studies. 31(2-3): 175-184.
The ‘November – Waste’ session is the first of two monthly discussions on waste. As in the two meetings dedicated to Architecture and Water respectively, the first session is organised around set readings, while the second (in December) is led by the contributions of group members.
About the reading: The presence of waste demands its disappearance, through its elimination or circulation elsewhere. For Healthabitat, ‘Removing waste water safely’ is a key priority of improving housing for householders’ increased health benefits. This is more easily said than done. Flush toilets, drains, septic tanks, and other technologies employed for the removal and treatment of waste water contend with shoddy parts, improper design and installation, practices of daily use, and environmental conditions to work effectively. Disposing of waste water safely in housing is one example of the much larger governmental project of managing waste’s removal and elimination through infrastructural solutions. Such technical responses to this by-product of human activity generate new forms of labour, reform environmental landscapes, and demand new geopolitical relations, while the unsustainability of waste sustains the expansion of waste management industries. Alongside elimination and removal, waste management also involves a range of prevention and diversion activities, among them reuse, recycling, repair, and maintenance.
Waste management is not simply a technical exercise, but is indicative of waste’s cultural ontologies. Mary Douglas famously described dirt as ‘matter out of place’, and structuralist readings have variously examined cultural practices of spatial separation and containment. The presence of waste is an impediment to particular forms of life and sovereign fantasies, and the removal of this negative eternality of economic production has repeatedly exploited ‘peripheral’ geographies and people. Former industrial reserve armies of labour, increasingly transformed under late capitalism into surplus populations, contend with the necropolitical impulses of co-locating waste and displaced people on former frontiers and other undesirable landscapes. As Jane Bennett notes, however, waste is ‘materially recalcitrant’, and its removal does not preclude its return: as leachate contaminated water, regurgitated sewage, oceanic garbage patches, as PCBs in atmospheric dust clouds, and in children contaminated by lead. These are not simply failures of containment but signal waste’s temporalities, including its long durations, its lingering presence, and the capacity of objects to transform from desirable commodity to garbage and back again. Driving a car propels the object through its use time towards its abandonment. But waste time provides the immanent potential of the object’s recuperation into economies of value.
The readings for discussion approach caring for waste from different angles. Sebastian Ureta examines care explicitly, in relation to the practices involved in handling tailings in a Chilean copper mine. Ureta questions our ability to manage tailings, if management implies the technical resolution or containment of potential harm, and instead promotes care as a frame for understanding ethical obligations to ongoing entanglements with industrial by-products. In a different register, Deborah Bird Rose considers how the accusation of wastefulness is employed within settler-colonial scholarship to exclude Indigenous people from discourses of ecological knowledge, care, and sustainability. Against the opposition between living in harmony with the environment and destructive wastefulness, Bird Rose’s decolonial approach demonstrates the conceptual and political implications of unreflexive evaluations of Indigenous people’s practices as wasteful. The background readings provide examples of the everyday management of human and extractive wastes – in water that fails to drain through clogged pipes and leachate that requires management long beyond profitable activity. Joshua Reno’s review summarises key themes in contemporary discard studies, including waste’s materialities, its governance, and its activity trails. In the further readings, Nigel Clark and Myra J. Hird examine bacterial life-worlds fostered and expaneded by human waste cultures; Gay Hawkins considers the role of waste in developing habits and collective politics; Bruce Pascoe (especially chapter 5) provides an account of Indigenous infrastructures concerned with storage, preservation, and the ecological sustainability referred to by Bird Rose; and Laura Junka-Aikio and Catalina Cortes-Severino’s introductory essay provides an overview of contemporary cultural studies approaches to extractivism.
Themes and objects
Territory / Colonialism / Contamination / Repurposing / Ritual / Use Value
Reading for discussion:
- Liboiron, Max. 2018. “Waste colonialism“. Discard Studies. 1 November.
This is our last session for 2018 before the university closes for the holiday period. Following the format taken so far, this second session on waste will be organised around the objects submitted by participants, in addition to a blog post by Max Liboiron. We encourage everyone to submit a short text or object to prompt collective discussion that connects with the themes examined on waste so far, and infrastructural inequalities broadly. Be creative, and bring a question for the group. Please submit your contributions to firstname.lastname@example.org a week before the group is scheduled to meet (December 4th for December 11th) and I’ll upload these to the shared dropbox folder.
A few more examples:
Themes and objects
Bureaucracy / Files / Law / Consent / Administrative Violence / Paperfare
Readings for discussion:
- Gupta, Akhil. 2012. “‘Let the train run on paper’: Bureaucratic writing as state practice.” Red tape: Bureaucracy, structural violence and poverty in India, 141-169 only. Durham: Duke University Press.
- Hull, Matthew. 2012. “The expropriation of land and the misappropriation of lists.” Government of paper: The materiality of bureaucracy in urban Pakistan, 162-185 only. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Simpson, Audra. 2016. “Consent’s revenge.” Cultural Anthropology. 31(3): 326-333.
- Lea, Tess, Howey, Kirsty, and Justin O’Brien. 2018. “Waging paperfare: Subverting the damage of extractive capitalism in Kakadu.” Oceania. 88(3): 305-319.
This is the first of three sessions dedicated to the theme “Words”. A description of all the readings follows.
About the readings: Housing depends on a web of documentary infrastructure. Such documents legitimate, facilitate, mediate, and constrain individual relations to home and property: as deeds, contracts, vouchers, insurance premiums, tenancy records, credit ratings, criminal convictions, and fines. Documentary infrastructure also represents and directs what, how, and where construction and maintenance take place, through land tenure leaseholds, development plans, zoning, surveys and floodplain mapping, and so on. Laws and policies represented in and enacted through documentary infrastructure establish standards, and articulate processes aimed at guaranteeing those standards, for material objects and our relations to them. The National Construction Code, for example, sets building and plumbing performance requirements in relation to safety, health and amenity, accessibility, and sustainability. Healthabitat developed the additional National Indigenous Housing Guide (“The Guide”) to provide best practice recommendations for Indigenous housing and amenity. Funded by the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs since its inception, support for the third edition was withdrawn in 2006 when concerns surfaced that its best practice recommendations could be interpreted as minimum standards with significant cost implications. The potential impact of printed words was undone by the withdrawal of government approval and the recall of physical guides. Thus the prescriptive effects of a voluntary guide dissipated into freedoms for contractors to continue building to minimum cost and lower standards.
Documents have subjectifying effects, producing us as (non)citizens, corporations, consumers, and so on, with attendant rights and obligations and penalties for failing to meet them. The social contract, liberal government’s legitimating non-event, provides a generic fiction for imperial and settler colonial regimes historically grounded in expropriation and territorial expansion. Laws and policies follow this original presumed consent. However, such characterisations of singular Law and Policy risk misrepresenting the diverse forms and practices of documentary worlds. Like pipes and wires, documentary infrastructure, whether paper or digital, assumes distinct material forms that facilitate exchange across particular terrains. Documents produce interdependent social networks and by doing so consolidate the legitimacy and necessity of policy-making, implementation, audit, and policing regimes. Colonial technologies including files, records, permits, dockets, reports, releases, petitions, letters, and lists, as well as graphic artefacts like maps and surveys, make up the documentary ecologies within bureaucracies, encapsulating and generating their routines, standards, banalities, and excitements. The content of documents conveys data deemed of future utility or significance, to be recorded and stored in files, folders, incorporated into databases, archived or deliberately hidden. Such documentary cultures, beyond the carpet worlds of policy design, can be experienced as assurance or burden – the means of administrative violence. Litigation and paperfare recognise that the demands of record-keeping, paperwork, and resultant surveillance impact disproportionately on the relatively time-poor, under-resourced, and variously literate in bureaucratic jargon – slow death by a thousand papercuts. Such documentary ecologies also contribute to the exclusion of vulnerable people from adequate housing (as records, fines, and debts accrue), and to increasing their dependence on the labour of legal aid and social work professionals who are themselves increasingly subject to both the administrative and audit demands of grants that sustain their employment. This situation is most evident in the increasingly banal (but no less tragic) events of default and eviction.
Our focus on “Words” extends across the three months of March, April, and May 2019. We retain the format of 2018 with the final month dedicated to discussion of shorter texts and questions contributed by reading group members. Eve Vincent joins us to co-coordinate the readings and discussions for the first two months, which are distinguished broadly to consider bureaucratic cultures and a specific documentary technology: the fine. In March, Akhil Gupta’s chapter considers the relationship between state power and writing and their infliction of violence on India’s poor. Matthew Hull’s chapter (which follows one on files), examines the enactment of government compensation regimes for house and land expropriation in villages on the outskirts of Islamabad. The short background piece by Franz Kafka represents Poseidon’s bureaucratic relationship with the sea, while the further readings by Audra Simpson and Tess Lea, Kirsty Howey, and Justin O’Brien explore the settler colonial administration of Indigenous peoples’ lives and different forms of resistance and refusal to that administration. In April, Michel Foucault’s lecture from The birth of biopolitics series describes the emergence and logic of the much maligned neoliberal governmentality, including its opposition to discourses of morality and ab/normality. Melinda Cooper’s article examines how this logic plays out in the imprisonment of Indigenous Australians for defaulting on fines. Background readings provide further contemporary instances of the administrative violence of fines, and responses to this, while the further readings by Wendy Brown, Thalia Anthony, and Liam Grealy consider, respectively, the incorporation of neoliberal governmentality into legal reason, the extension of crime discourses to police driving offences, and fantasies of paperlessness in Northern Territory policing.
Themes and objects
Policy / Neoliberal Governmentality / Fines / Punishment / Debt
Readings for discussion:
- Foucault, Michel. 2008. “Ten. 21 March 1979.” The birth of biopolitics, 239-266. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
- Cooper, Melinda. 2018. “Money as punishment: Neoliberal budgetary politics and the fine.” Australian Feminist Studies. 33(96): 187-208.
- Wahlquist, Calla. 2018. “Crowdfunding campaign to free Indigenous women ‘shocked’ by WA government response.” The Guardian. 22 January.
- Conifer, Dan. 2018. “Indigenous work-for-the-dole scheme slaps participants with more than 400,000 fines.” ABC. 10 March.
- Karrabing Film Collective. The Stealing C*nt$.
- Brown, Wendy. 2015. “Law and legal reason.” Undoing the demos: Neoliberalism’s stealth revolution, 151-174. Zone Books: New York.
- Grealy, Liam. 2017. “Paperless arrests as preventive detention: Motion and documentation in the governance of Indigenous peoples of Australia.” Sites. 14(1): 80-105.
Themes and objects
Bureaucracy / Files / Law / Consent / Administrative Violence / Paperfare / Policy / Neoliberal Governmentality / Fines / Punishment / Debt
We encourage everyone to submit a short text or object to prompt collective discussion that connects with the themes examined on words so far, and infrastructural inequalities broadly. Be creative, and bring a question for the group. Please submit your contributions to email@example.com a week before the group is scheduled to meet (April 30th for May 7th) and I’ll upload these to the shared dropbox folder.
A few examples:
- Kafka, Franz. 1920. Poseidon.
- Karrabing Film Collective. The Stealing C*nt$.
- Steaphan Paton. 2016. “Yours Faithfully the Sheriff, The Magistrate and The Officer in Charge.”