Saturday May 20th,  2017  Afternoon Sessions - 1:30pm-5pm


Session:  "Temporalities of Infrastructure: Mediation, Durability and Impermanence in Urban Landscapes"


Session Organizers:


Alison Damick, Columbia University


Samantha Fox, Columbia University


ABSTRACT: Conceptions of the urban are inextricably bound up with the management and distribution of resources. Cities are, at their core, mediators of resource collection, commodification, restriction, and distribution—conduits for labor, materials, and natural resources. This panel investigates the urban as a vehicle of mediation, and responds to the ways in which the infrastructural turn in anthropology has ushered in new ways of thinking about the layering of material and ideological structures. Following Larkin’s call that infrastructures “need to be analyzed as concrete semiotic and aesthetic vehicles oriented to addressees” (Larkin 2013: 329), we address the temporal, affective, and often palimpsestic experience of infrastructures. As vehicles of both material and meaning, infrastructures bear upon the tension between the perceived natural—the resources that they work on—and the perceived cultural—the frameworks in which those resources are utilized, as well as the tension between the short term—in which they are used—and the long term—in which they are imagined to be (or archeologically, to have been) useful. Indeed, the urban landscape is a landscape of infrastructures. But, when attention is directed towards the mediant instead of the mediated, as Appadurai (2015) urges, what is it that constitutes and makes available the material as a resource? This session examines how infrastructures both create and emerge in response to the layering of temporalities, materials, and scales of urban resource mediation, and the tension between contingency and durability, such as they exist between and within nature-cultures. This session brings together scholars working across millennia to address the variability and contingency inherent to human interactions with the material world, and the various scales and perspectives that coexist in urban environments. 15 minute papers with discussion time reserved at the end.


 Inidividual Papers:



From microstructures to macro movements: how storage bins helped urbanize Early Bronze Age coastal Lebanon


Alison Damick (Columbia University)


Using micro-botanical analyses, I have been able to reconstruct some of the technologies used to build and maintain multi-scalar storage infrastructure in two EBA sites along the Lebanese coast. Starting from the traces of these storage technologies, this paper explores their implications for driving larger-scale mobility both by non-humans (the plant contents and constituents of the containers) and humans (who are mobilized to produce and care for the agricultural systems required to maintain these storage containers). Storage technologies are often seen themselves as the effects of other kinds of socio-economic developments (for instance, intensifying agriculture and trade require storage to be developed). However, this paper looks at storage infrastructure in its generative role, as it drives many of the new relationships of mobility, temporality, and technology that produced the unique urban communities of coastal Lebanon in the third millennium BCE.



Encountering Cusco: Roads, Paths, and Platforms of the Inka


Stephen Berquist (University of Toronto)


This paper presents the results of a comprehensive survey of the Cusco area undertaken to document pre-Hispanic roads, paths, and platforms. We analyze the relationship between roads, platforms, and the core of the pre-Columbian city of Cusco in ArcGIS. Findings show that there is a clear correspondence between roads and platforms though significant exceptions to this pattern will be discussed. In at least one case a road seems to have diverged significantly from its least cost path to pass near multiple platforms. More striking is that many platform locations afford the first (or last) visual contact with the Cusco city core, thus demarcating the visual horizon of the Inka city. Most remaining platforms not falling into the former category provide a clear line of site to the Qorikancha, the plaza Hawkaypata, or to platforms at the Sacsaywaman archaeological complex. Of the few remaining, we can, following Bauer (1998), confidently associate at least two with wak’as described by Cobo that mark locations where Cusco is lost from view as other geographical features enter the visual field. Likewise, the visual field of those platforms that are not located near roads encompasses important mountain peaks as well as the Cusco city center, and are themselves located on high, terraced promontories. By contextualizing our data within the broader literature on Inka platforms, the Cusco ceque system, and ritual pathways of the Andes we argue that the platforms were part of a sensory architecture of controlled haptic intensities that tightly structured how sanctioned travelers encountered Inka Cusco. We thus contribute to a discussion of the Inka production of space (and time).




Street lamps and Intangible Infrastructures in a Post-Socialist German City


Samantha Fox (Columbia University)


In West Germany, East Germany was derogatorily called “dunkel Deutschland”—dark Germany—because it was imagined to be so backwards and unintegrated into modern life that it was a dark spot on the globe. In reality, East Germany was profligate with its use of electricity, installing street lamps throughout the country even on narrow rural roads where only bicycles could travel. This paper examines street lamps in the former East Germany within the context of the anthropological literature on infrastructures: as instruments of illumination as well as vehicles of semiosis, capable of constituting subjects through affective encounters. Street lamps in East Germany have been symbols of optimism, of blindness to the limits of natural resources, of an allegedly unnecessary attention to safety, and, in turn, of danger, of limited financial and environmental resources, and of a lack of responsibility of local government towards its citizens. Once icons of modernity that radically transformed urban life, they are now both icons of a “future past,” to use Reinhart Koselleck’s term, and, as they are refashioned and made to be more energy-efficient, they are becoming icons of contemporary priorities with respect to carbon neutrality. My research focuses on the East German model socialist city of Eisenhüttenstadt, located on the border between Germany and Poland. I examine contemporary concerns over street lighting from the opposing perspectives of residents and the municipal government, as well as the historical legacy in which these debates are situated.



Modeling Urban Encroachment and Land Use at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chan Chan, Peru


Nicole Paynter (University of Texas – Austin)


Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, and adjacent to the modern city of Trujillo, the archaeological site of Chan Chan, Peru is defined by select temporalities and aesthetic values attributed to UNESCO’s ‘freeze-frame’ model of cultural heritage. This model promotes a ‘culture for consumption’ framework and lacks sufficient coping mechanisms related to shifting landscape perceptions, values, and meanings over time. As a World Heritage Site, a singular perspective and visualization of Chan Chan has been curated despite the fluid nature of landscapes. Here, place-making, semiotic exchange, and lived experiences retain a dynamic role in the formation and negotiation of the landscape, irrespective of singular perspectives of space. Chan Chan’s proximity to the city of Trujillo has also created multi-layered points of contention in terms of site preservation, with increased urbanization and demographic shifts differentiating land use perceptions and realities. Using Chan Chan as a case study, this paper explores tensions on the landscape created by the consumption and production of ‘World Heritage’ in urban spaces. Trujillo’s expansion and development is modeled using GIS and quantitative methods, with a focus on population growth, infrastructure requirements and land use practices, as related to heritage sustainability.




The Temporalities of Concrete: Reflections on Time in the Contemporary Period


Paulina Scheck (University of Toronto)


The use of cement as a relatively cheap and flexible construction medium in the economic climate following the Second World War revolutionized architectural practices, and led to a succession of modernist styles throughout the last half of the 20thcentury. Among them, brutalism constituted an intensive but short construction episode in the 60s and 70s, followed by an almost immediate fall in popularity. Designed as an homage to concrete and technical innovation, brutalism’s esoteric qualities soon became the epitome of ugliness and urban decay. Following decades of neglect, brutalism is seeing a growing appreciation on social media and with it a call for a formal heritage response.

This paper reveals and experiments with the temporal practices that have redeemed brutalism’s aesthetic in the contemporary period. From the Barbican Henge phenomenon to the casting of brutalist buildings as backdrops for dystopian societies in science fiction, brutalism demonstrates an ability to take on any temporal qualities, from deep prehistory to the distant future and it is this temporal versatility that constitutes its appeal. Temporal multiplicity is revealed through a photographic project based on an experiential survey of University of Toronto’s own brute, Robarts Library. The manipulation of photographic convention and scale allows the observer to switch back and forth between the permanent and the episodic, the monumental and the mundane and to trace the speeding and slowing down of time on concrete surfaces. Finally, through concrete’s hybrid qualities as an artifact with geological properties, the project moves on to consider manifestations of nonhuman time in urban spaces. Audience members are invited to participate by viewing and photographing the building, which is located minutes away from the conference location.