- Issues with writing or putting online blog posts?
- Issues with creating starter kits?
General introduction to this class
- Social justice approaches to Infrastructure
- Topic today: (Infra)structural racism
[toward a theory of infrastructural racism?]
- Topic today: (Infra)structural racism
Plan for class: Discussion of sovereignty, segregation, and infrastructure Discussion of works by Adrienne Brown & Symon James-Wilson
Epigraph for Class
These findings affirm William Gleason’s central claim . . . : “The built environment is always shaped in some way by race whether such shaping is explicitly acknowledged or understood”…. [The] persistent intervention I make in the chapters that follow inverts Gleason’s argument. While his book explores the built environment’s racial marks, I most pressingly insist that race is always shaped in some way by the built environment. I focus on the historical specificity of racialized responses to the early skyscraper, but I also intend this argument to suggest the broader ways that race and racial perception are shaped by their environmental context in any number of historical periods and locations. (Adrienne R. Brown, 27)
A Short History of Sovereignty (in Europe)
At the gates of the polis
Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (1961; translated 1965)
Yet there is one exception in this consignment to secrecy: that which is made for madmen. It was doubtless a very old custom of the Middle Ages to display the insane. In certain of the Narrtürmer in Germany, barred windows had been installed which permitted those outside to observe the madmen chained within. They thus constituted a spectacle at the city gates. The strange fact is that this custom did not disappear once the doors of the asylums closed, but that on the contrary it then developed, assuming in Paris and London almost an institutional character. (68)
Race / Nation
Leopold von Ranke, History of the Latin and Teutonic Nations (1824)
At the beginning of his success, not long after the migration of nations had commenced, Athaulf, King of the Visigoths, conceived the idea of gothicising the Roman world, and making himself the Caesar of all; he would maintain the Roman laws. If we understand him aright, he first intended to combine the Romans of the West (who, though sprung of many and diverse tribes, had, after a union that had lasted for centuries, at length become one realm and one people) in a new unity with the Teutonic races. He afterwards despaired of being able to effect this; but the collective Teutonic nations at last brought it about, and in a still wider sense than he had dreamed of. It was not long before Lugdunensian Gaul became not, it is true, a Gothland, but a Lugdunensian Germania. Eventually the purple of a Caesar passed to the Teutonic races in the person of Charlemagne. At length these likewise adopted the Roman law. In this combination six great nations were formed–three in which the Latin element predominated, viz. the French, the Spanish, and the Italian; and three in which the Teutonic element was conspicuous, viz. the German, the English, and the Scandinavian.
Each of these six nationalities was again broken up into separate parts; they never formed one nation, and they were almost always at war among themselves. Wherein, then, is their unity displayed. (1)
Hippolyte Taine, from Introduction (section 5) to The History of English Literature (1863)
Three different sources contribute to the production of this elementary moral state, race, environment, and epoch. What we call race consists of those innate and hereditary dispositions which man brings with him into the world and which are generally accompanied with marked differences of temperament and of bodily structure. They vary in different nations….
When we have thus verified the internal structure of a race we must consider the environment in which it lives…. At one time climate has had its effect. Although the history of Aryan nations can be only obscurely traced from their common country to their final abodes, we can nevertheless affirm that the profound difference which is apparent between the Germanic races on the one hand, and the Hellenic and Latin races on the other, proceeds in great part from the differences between the countries in which they have established themselves—the former in cold and moist countries, in the depths of gloomy forests and swamps, or on the borders of a wild ocean, confined to melancholic or rude sensations, inclined to drunkenness and gross feeding, leading a militant and carnivorous life; the latter, on the contrary, living amidst the finest scenery, alongside of a brilliant, sparkling sea inviting navigation and commerce, exempt from the grosser cravings of the stomach, disposed at the start to social habits and customs, to political organization, to the sentiments and faculties which develop the art of speaking, the capacity for enjoyment and invention in the sciences, in art, and in literature….
Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) (Wikipedia article)
Peace of Westphalia (1648) (Wikipedia article)
From “Maps” chapter in Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees (2005)
- Cold War
- European Union
- Neoliberalism (flows of capital)
- Migration (flows of people)
- Changing balance of world national powers
Benjamin H. Bratton, The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty (2016)
Today the authority of states, drawn from the rough consensus of the Westphalian political geographic diagram, is simultaneously never more entrenched and ubiquitous and never more obsolete and brittle. In the emergence of The Stack, it is not that the state declines per se, but that our contemporary condition is qualified both by a debordering perforation and liquefaction of this system’s ability to maintain a monopoly on political geography, and by an overbordering, manifest as an unaccountable proliferation of new lines, endogenous frames, anomalous segments, medieval returns, infomatic interiors, ecological externalities, megacity states, and more. (6)
A Short, Partial History of Segregation (in the U.S.)
The Civil War (1861-1865)
Post-Civil War U.S.
Jim Crow era (late 19th – mid 20th centuries) (“de jure” racism)
The Great Migration (1915-1970)
Civil Rights era (c. 1954-1968)
Structural, systemic, or societal racism
In an often-cited 1988 study, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton compiled 20 existing segregation measures and reduced them to five dimensions of residential segregation….
African Americans are considered to be racially segregated because of all five dimensions of segregation being applied to them within these inner cities across the U.S. These five dimensions are evenness, clustering, exposure, centralization and concentration.
Evenness is the difference between the percentage of a minority group in a particular part of a city, compared to the city as a whole. Exposure is the likelihood that a minority and a majority party will come in contact with one another. Clustering is the gathering of different minority groups into a single space; clustering often leads to one big ghetto and the formation of hyperghettoization. Centralization measures the tendency of members of a minority group to be located in the middle of an urban area, often computed as a percentage of a minority group living in the middle of a city (as opposed to the outlying areas). Concentration is the dimension that relates to the actual amount of land a minority lives on within its particular city. The higher segregation is within that particular area, the smaller the amount of land a minority group will control. (From Wikipedia, “Segregation”)
Toward a Theory of Infrastructural Racism
1. Role of Infrastructure in Structural Racism
Nikhil Anand, “The Banality of Infrastructure”
The water crisis in Flint also reveals, in vivid detail, how the violence of environmental injustice is generated in the most banal of ways—through bureaucratic routines of boredom and calculation that do not account for the humans they affect.
The dullness of infrastructure has political effects. It enables their various managerial authorities—officials in public utility commissions and departments of environmental services—to remain faceless. It allows their practices to remain illegible in opaque institutions. As the crisis in Flint revealed, their “boringness” obscures how the work they are made to do is fundamentally political and vital to understanding how injustice and natural resources are distributed.
Sacoby M. Wilson, et al., “Built Environment Issues”
. . . local officials can use ETJ [extraterritorial jurisdiction] as a spatial driver of environmental injustice since they can annex certain neighborhoods, giving them access to basic amenities, while refusing to annex other neighborhoods located in unincorporated areas, preventing them from receiving basic amenities. (65)
Johnny Miller, “Roads to Nowhere”
Making the case that infrastructure itself can be exclusionary is hardly straightforward. Many of the worst decisions in US planning were made decades ago to intentionally disenfranchise, marginalise and separate communities; policies such as redlining and “blight clearing” are well-documented embarrassments. But many decisions that segregated communities were unintentional. The stop sign and one-way street might seem benign, but they shape our lives in ways we sometimes don’t even realise.
Adrienne R. Brown, The Black Skyscraper (2019)
The early skyscraper’s materiality proves entangled with race on multiple fronts, from the black and immigrant laborers who riveted girders and dug foundations while their lives were routinely jeopardized by overzealous managers, to the tactics deployed by steel corporations to exacerbate racial divisions between workers and weaken unions, up through the architectural debates about the use of European designs to avoid “miscegenated” façades reflective of the United States’ heterogeneous population…. I argue in this book not only that race proved crucial to this architecture’s inception, but that the skyscraper also impeded the perception of race. In a diverse array of materials from the turn of the century— pulp fiction and office girl romances, realist travel writings and muckraking journalism, Harlem Renaissance artworks and accounts of architects slumming in cabarets—skyscrapers are depicted as changing what it meant to both see and be seen as a racial subject. (2)
At stake in these changes to how bodies appeared was the continued viability of perceiving race, a practice heavily reliant on the believed accessibility of racial evidence on and around the body. The skyscraper potentially disrupted the ability to perceive race as well as the capacity to feel raced. (2)
[Jacob] Riis relies on race—or more precisely the evidence of racial difference he gathers from the face, dress, and tongue of those around him—to orient himself and his reader within these larger slum spaces. By depending on race as a reliable tool for ordering and navigating the slum, Riis reifies race’s inherent legibility, finding it everywhere available and evident on the bodies of tenement dwellers and in the distinct atmospherics they produce. Racial mixture, indexing the unhealthful proximity of distinct types, does not devolve into racial confusion for Riis. In fact, the forced intimacy within these crammed spaces often makes these distinctions all the more visible…. By contrast, urban scenes framed by the skyscraper, either in photographs or descriptions, did not so neatly give way to legibility or categorization. Whereas the tenement proves amenable to the interpersonal scale needed to observe and apprehend race, the skyscraper inaugurates a new scale of perception incommensurate with the more intimate one needed to support discrete acts of racial perception. (13)
By placing pressure on both the presumed visibility of corporeal whiteness and the capacity for subjects to “feel” white amid buildings rendering everything at their feet as identical matter, skyscrapers emerge as one of the factors causing whiteness to bend—if not break—around the turn of the century. (22)
We tend to talk about racial perception as a singular and instantaneous act, but it is better understood as a complex series of procedures involving judgment, reading, rationalization, and conjecture that normally go undescribed. I use the term racial perception to index the varying combinations of techniques, processes, structures, and convictions that allow a subject to believe they are having an experience of race. (22-23)
This book considers a range of mostly print materials representing the skyscraper in its earliest era. From labor histories of steelworkers, office managerial manuals, and architecture journal articles on the skyscraper’s form, function, and design, as well as “low-brow” fictional works of pulp, romance, science fiction, and children’s literature and the work of better known realist and modernist writers, such as Henry James, William Dean Howells, Nella Larsen, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the many genres in which the early skyscraper appeared differently mark its racial effects. To recount the racial story of the skyscraper is, in fact, to recount several stories rooted in the many renderings of its material and symbolic life, from mimetic depictions to openly fantastical ones.(29-30)
Though I read a range of materials, narrative serves a special function in the book as a particularly generative tool for apprehending racial perception’s complexities. In prose, we encounter figures attempting to narrate the experience of perceiving and feeling in the city as a story that could be circulated on mass scales, describing conventions for how acts of racial perception might now work—even when they fail to work—in built environments of vacillating scales, fragmented sight lines, and disparate vantage points. This is not to say that racial perception always operates narratively, linearly, or rationally, but that it is in narrative where we find attempts to make these processes seem so. Just as the skyscraper called the reliability of perceived racial symptoms into question, it also raised concerns about the durability of narrative as a genre historically anchored by observable individual subjects depicted in close detail. Many of the writers I focus on link the survival of racial distinction—a categorization imagined to be vital to the very rendering of a subject—to the survival of narrative itself. (30-31)
Anxious answers to these questions emerged from two literary genres that typically reside at opposite ends of the narrative spectrum: (1) the fantastic exploits of weird fiction—a label encompassing works of fantasy, the supernatural, and horror by writers mostly forgotten to us today— and (2) more canonical works of American realism devoted to genuinely drawn characters. (41)
Symon James-Wilson, “Roads, Routes, and Roots” (2018)
The routing and rooting of the ‘unknowable’ across multiple times, spaces and cosmogonies that has been made possible through black geographies and black infrastructure has involved the occlusive politics of collective memory. The ‘(im)possible spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure’ refers to black infrastructures (mechanisms which have transported and transformed Black life globally for centuries) that are remembered and reproduced through spatial mnemonics attentive to the (im)possibility of ever fully knowing black geographies and Black lived experiences in their entireties. (Quote 1)
Unlike the historic amnesia framework, which suggests that absolute forgetting is both achievable and most desirable, the occlusion paradigm demands that we ‘unblock’ new opportunities and possibilities for remembrance (Wills, 2005). In the context of infrastructure and spatial mnemonics, the politics of collective occlusion suggests that alternative methods of memory-making, meaning-making and place-making might be imagined and actualized by contemporary geographers. It is along this road that I would like to signpost the (im)possible spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure. (Quote 2)
Music was central to the cultural fabric of my diasporic household. The constant sonic presence of African, African American, and West Indian musicians in my childhood home established strong routes between Rochester NY, Toronto ON, Brooklyn NY and Antigua. On the living room sofa, songs by Black artists were important cultural tools for learning about infrastructure in the spaces and “homeplaces” (hooks, 1991) my multiple ancestries are routed through…. Paying close attention to the different styles and geographies of this music became instructive to my nascent theorization that the songs themselves could be understood as forms of infrastructure in their own right. Further, it was through African American spirituals in particular that I began to conceptualize songs and musicians as forms of infrastructure ‘routed’ and ‘rooted’ in African, Indigenous, and multi-racial/multi-cultural ways of knowing and being. (Quote 3)
I would argue that the establishment of these routes, roots and cultural circulations through sound maps illustrates the (im)possible spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure. Here, the spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure refers to the spatialized forms of collective remembering and forgetting Black people have carried on slave ships, on terrestrial and Underground railroads, by foot, by freight, via airplane, and in a present day context, on social media sites and music streaming apps. In this essay, I have chosen to focus on the production of sonic space as a mechanism for memory- and meaning-making, but spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure are certainly not limited to soundscapes. Spatial mnemonics of black infrastructure might also include an array of other place-making practices and sensory geographies that include: the visual, the guttural, the olfactory, the visceral, the emotional and the bloody. Models of tactical, kinetic and auditory spatial mnemonics can be seen in black infrastructures around the globe.
A striking example of a tactical spatial mnemonic of black infrastructure is routed and rooted in Colombia. Historically, enslaved Afro-Colombian women used African hair braiding styles and techniques to relay messages. (Quote 4)