Urban infrastructural transitions and a progressive reworking of the contemporary city

Organizers: Valentin Meilinger (Utrecht University), Joe Williams (Durham University)

Urban infrastructures are inextricably linked to social and material orders of contemporary cities and their urban geographies. They shape (and are shaped by) urban resource flows, modes of governing, lifestyles, but also urban injustices; and they are embedded in the socio-cultural foundations of contemporary capitalism (Amin/Thrift 2016). While urban infrastructures are increasingly acknowledged as powerful levers for urban sustainability and climate policies, the infrastructural heritage of the modern capitalist city and the social orders tied to it remain adamant barriers of more progressive urban (infrastructural) transitions (Pincetl 2016). Particularly, current urban water and energy transitions and their entanglements bear testimony of this.

The aim of this session is to reflect on whether and how urban infrastructures can be conceptualized and studied as platforms for a more progressive reworking of social and material orders of contemporary capitalist cities. The main aims of this session will be to foster discussion around:

  • Developing a critical understanding of how urban infrastructures, as relational systems, provide a valuable analytical lens to explore socio-material reconfigurations of contemporary cities and shifting “infrastructural spaces” (Easterling 2014).
  • Tracing how urban infrastructural transitions shape and are shaped by changing resource flows, modes of governing, power relations, lifestyles, social practices, imaginaries of the city and cultural values.
  • Understanding how in urban infrastructural transitions infrastructure “comes to matter” (Rutherford 2014: 1542) politically and forms an arena of political contestations about future social and material orders and geographies of the city.

Contributions that speak to these aims are welcome from a wide range of conceptual approaches. Relevant questions and topics include, but are not limited to:

  • What is the role of the state relative to the (organized) civil society and to the economy in current urban infrastructural transitions, and how does it change?
  • How do entrenched institutional orders of the state change in current infrastructural transitions?
  • What impacts do austerity conditions have on current urban infrastructural transitions?
  • What are scalar reconfigurations that accompany current urban infrastructural transitions (governance constellations, techno-structure etc.)?
  • How are new forms of solidarity, community and citizenship materially negotiated via the design and management of shifting infrastructures?
  • How are urban imaginaries, aesthetics and conceptions of urban nature materially negotiated via the design and management of shifting infrastructures?
  • How do social and ecological justice movements appropriate urban infrastructures in transition?
  • What are empirical examples of progressive politics of infrastructural change?
  • How are resource flows and their management/governance structures becoming more tightly interconnected in current infrastructural transitions?

If you are interested in participating in this session, please contact Valentin Meilinger (v.meilinger@uu.nl) or Joe Williams (joseph.g.williams@durham.ac.uk) by 20 October, and send your proposed title and abstract of no more than 250 words (http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/call_for_papers/abstract_guidelines).


Amin, A., Thrift, N. J. (2016): Seeing like a city. Cambridge: Polity.

Easterling, K. (2014): Extrastatecraft. The power of infrastructure space. London: Verso.

Pincetl, S. (2016): Post carbon cities. Distributed, decentralized and demodernized? In: Evans, J., Karvonen, A, Raven, R. (eds.): The experimental city. London: Routledge.

Rutherford, J. (2014). The Vicissitudes of Energy and Climate Policy in Stockholm: Politics, Materiality and Transition. Urban Studies 51(7): 1449–1470.

Presidential Fellow in Urban Studies, University of Manchester. Nate Millington is an urban geographer, writer, and qualitative researcher, interested in…