SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Time, money and process: anthropological explorations of the infrastructural

IMG - Taipei

Date: 7 June 2019Time: 9:00 AM

Finishes: 8 June 2019Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B203

Type of Event: Conference

The event is free to attend but registration essential due to limited space. Click here to register.


Infrastructure has the capacity to become commonplace and taken for granted. Recent work on infrastructure has done much to un-do this invisibility, pointing to the sociality and ways of doing things that infrastructure wraps within itself. The anthropological literature is less confident when it comes to exploring the ideas and practices to do with time, money and process that allow infrastructure to come into being and to endure.

The rapid expansion of all kinds of infrastructural thinking and practice in many parts the world is poorly understood. The conceptual maps of scholars clearly lag behind those who practice infrastructure. This workshop aims to contribute to such a mapping exercise. Along the way we will ask: what does the anthropological study of infrastructure contribute to social science? And, what does the interdisciplinary study of infrastructure contribute to anthropology?

The meaning and purpose of infrastructure has varied over time. Infrastructure is publicly associated with a liberal understanding of trade, communication, mobility and exchange. Anthropology usually comes to rest on the social relations of infrastructure and the forms of aspiration such construction reveals among publics. On the other hand, the state has often deployed public works to control economic growth and labour; infrastructure has been also used as a means to create and reinforce nationalism, as an instrument of governmentality, as well as a political tool to generate electoral support. Citizenship, technopolitics and the spectacular become part of the governmental logic of the infrastructural.

In history, public works and private capital have cyclically vied to control the infrastructural. However, since the 1990s, public works gave ways to a new form of infrastructure, intended as a way of neoliberal governance. We want to ethnographically look at the contradictions that the latter creates: i.e. unused, incomplete and inaccessible infrastructure. In turn, these contradictions raise questions of the new infrastructural: whose infrastructure? For what? And why?

Papers will ethnographically explore the worlds of those who finance, build, operate and consume infrastructure. In this way, infrastructure is not simply a perspective, a vista, a lens onto political processes of varied nature in different local contexts, but a theoretical tool to examine socio-material relationships across different scales. While Akhil Gupta suggests that infrastructure is ethnographically processual, we understand process as an episteme, as a methodological tool to follow the processual works of infrastructure in different scales, from specific locales to the global.


  • Dr. Pauline Destree (St. Andrews)
  • Dr. Luke Heslop (LSE)
  • Ms. Ikuno Naka (Oxford)
  • Ms. Rosa Sansone (Manchester)
  • Ms. Elisa Tamburo (SOAS)
  • Mx. Souad Zeineddine (Cologne)

Chairs: Dr Elisa van Waeyenberge, Dr Kate Bayliss, Dr Benjamin Bowles

Organising committee: Ms. Elisa Tamburo, Prof. Edward Simpson

Prof. Anru Lee will be delivering a lecture on a related theme on 6 June, 2019 from 3pm at Wolfson Lecture Theatre: Taiwan Studies Revisited Annual Lecture: In the Name of Harmony and Prosperity and Beyond: Gender and Labor as a (Renewed) Research Agenda

The event is free to attend but registration essential due to limited space. Click here to register. 

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute

Contact email:

Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4390

Sponsor: SOAS South Asia Institute, SOAS China Institute, Centre of Taiwan Studies, SOAS Doctoral School