Infrastructures, Regions and Urbanizations, Singapore 2018

Infrastructures, Regions and Urbanization

September 29 to October 7, 2018, Singapore

The academy was organized jointly by: Forum Transregionale Studien, Max Weber Stiftung, Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien, National University Singapore, Max Weber Foundation Research Group on Borders, Mobility and New Infrastructures and the Asia Research Institute at the National Unisersity of Singapore.
Chaired by: Andreas Eckert (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Weiqiang Lin, James D. Sidaway (both National University of Singapore), Simone Lässig (German Historical Institute Washington DC) and Franz Waldenberger (Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien, Tokyo).

Infrastructure has become a lively domain of scholarship. Whilst often seemingly mundane and quotidian, the politics, histories and geographies associated with infrastructures invite critical scrutiny and are a mirror to wider, socio-economic, historical-geographical and natural trajectories. It is less than a century since the term infrastructure entered the English lexicon to signify a range of facilities, amenities and equipment: “Infrastructure became a word only in 1927, seemingly long after the idea came into existence.”, as David Alff noted (2017, “Before infrastructure: the poetics of paving in John Gay’s Trivia”, Proceedings of the Modern Language Association, 132, 5). Elsewhere, Alff shows how infrastructural projects, invariably “began as written proposals, circulated as print objects, spurred physical undertakings, and provoked responses in the realms of poetry, fiction, and drama. Mapping this process discloses the ways in which ….authors applied their faculties of imagination to achieve finite goals and, in so doing, devised new ways of seeing the world through its future potential” (David Alff, 2017, The Wreckage of Intentions, Projects in British Culture, 1660–1730, Philadelphia).

Infrastructure has both tangible, material forms, such as roads, cables, wharfs, power and water grids and more intangible forms, such as formalized and informal civil society socio-political networks and institutions.  The interactions between these forms and between infrastructures and regions merit examination. Regions may include “areas” (such as Southeast or Central Asia or territorial states or subnational and cross-border regions) and the scholarly approaches to them. The latter include a range of area studies traditions, trans-area studies as well as alternative approaches, as in the discussions around “Zomia” as a name for a region in-between the more conventionally-recognized ones of Central, South, East and Southeast Asia (William van Schendel, 2002, “Geographies of knowing, geographies of ignorance: jumping scale in Southeast Asia.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 20).

Infrastructure can be seen as a form of spatial-temporal “fix” within the circulation of capital, goods and services. Infrastructures connect places with different capabilities and power. Especially, if you integrate a stronger value chain or/and global production network, crucial questions arise about who, where and what will be able to appropriate value. Infrastructures consolidate and transform uneven development, regional value regimes and landscapes at diverse, interacting and often contested scales. These include territorial states, regional organizations (such as ASEAN, the EU or APEC and the Trans-Pacific Partnership), cross-border formations (such as the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle, sometimes known as SIJORI) and cities.

In regard of latter, the problematique of urbanization has also become a very lively subject of scholarly debate. This includes claims that sociologically and in terms of reconfigurations of space and nature, urban-centred networks span the globe, and hence the development of arguments that the appropriate analytical lens should be “planetary urbanization” bestowing a network perspective on cities, resources and territories.  This work draws on earlier writings on the theme by Henri Lefebvre (Neil Brenner, ed. 2014, Implosions/Explosions. Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization, Berlin).
Such claims about the universalization of the urban have been contested by a range of scholars attesting the value of other analytical scales and perspectives (see the forthcoming special issue of Society and Space on planetary urbanization) on cities, urbanization, rurality, postcoloniality and social life.

Either way, regions and inter-city dynamics are themselves continually reconfigured by infrastructure. A significant contemporary example, is China’s Belt and Road initiative that promises to reconfigure the spaces of Eurasia and East Asia’s interactions with the rest of Asia, the wider Indian Ocean and beyond into Africa. What does this signify for Asia’s (and other) regions and for area studies? How might it be conceptualized through critical geopolitics and/or mobilities studies?

The Academy aimed to provide a forum for scholars in social sciences and humanities who are interested in discussing and exchanging on questions of material and immaterial infrastructures, regions and urbanization in past and present societies in diverse contexts.

The Transregional Academy promotes intensive peer-to-peer debates and encourages new perspectives grown from debates in small discussion groups. Participants take an active part in contributing to the program’s structure and content. They present their individual research, co-design thematic discussion groups, and are involved in organizing the workshops. While most of the work is conducted in an intensive small-group atmosphere, the Transregional Academy also presents its work to the public through general lectures and open panel discussions. The Transregional Academy invites up to 21 doctoral and postdoctoral scholars from different countries and academic backgrounds to present and discuss their current research within an international and multi-disciplinary framework. The Academy is designed to support scholarly networks.

The Transregional Academy is a format of the Forum Transregionale Studien and part of the strategic cooperation with the Max Weber Stiftung – Deutsche Geisteswissenschaftliche Institute im Ausland. It is supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung, BMBF).

The Berlin-based Forum Transregionale Studien is a research organization that promotes the internationalization of research in the humanities and social sciences. It is dedicated to a research agenda that systematically links disciplinary approaches and the expertise of area studies, by focusing on entanglements and interactions across national, cultural or regional borders. The Forum is supported by the Land of Berlin.

The Max Weber Stiftung promotes global research, concentrated around the areas of social sciences, cultural studies, and the humanities. Research is conducted at ten institutes in various countries worldwide with distinctive and independent focal points. Through its globally operating institutes, the Foundation is able to contribute to the communication and networking between Germany and the host countries or regions of its establishments.

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