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Warring With Infrastructure: Critical Reflections on Building and Collapse

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Organizer: Deena Dinat

Co-Organizer: Madeleine Reddon

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South Africa is understood to be in a state of infrastructural collapse: electrical grids, water systems, and roads all face existential crises triggered by the rapid criminal neoliberalization of state functions. Infrastructure is essential to the formation of the post-apartheid nation: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which operated between 1996 and 2003, was deployed by the state as a means of securing its post-apartheid legitimacy. The TRC was a subject- and nation-making institution that was explicitly described as an infrastructural project. The legislation that created the TRC envisioned it as a “historic bridge” between an unjust past and a democratic future, while elsewhere it was a “pathway, a stepping stone” that allowed for the “reconstruction of society,” after apartheid. South Africa’s subsequent infrastructural collapse signals not only material and technical breakdown, but also the breakdown of the TRC as an imaginative national project, a crisis of the subject-making powers of the state.

While state attempts to build the new nation collapse, experimental writing, art, and community making continue to offer other possible relations to the “given” of colonial and post-colonial infrastructure and its violent inheritances. Cape Town-based magazine Chimurenga is one example of a pan-African cultural experiment that recognizes existing infrastructures of state power, but also the possibilities for seizing and reconceptualizing those material and discursive structures for insurrectionary purposes. A reference to Zimbabwe’s two anticolonial wars of independence, “chimurenga” is, as Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga writes, “an approach to war involving the whole community, not just those carrying arms,” which includes “a transformation of zvakatikomberedza (environment–caves, mountains, rivers, pools, valleys, forests, animals, trees) into military assets and infrastructure, with or without physically modifying them.” Chimurenga thus asks us to consider the possibilities for reappropriating the infrastructures of subjection for revolutionary action.

This seminar invites participants to return critically to the concept of “infrastructure” from a diverse range of perspectives. As an ideological conceit for the “building” of modern, neoliberal statehood, infrastructure implicates several registers of subjective and collective being: institutional, aesthetic, affective, material, psychic, and so on. Acknowledging this, we welcome submissions that knit the question of “structure” to other socio-political and psychic terrains, in order to discuss possibilities for revolutionary discourse and action. Potential topics could include:

Ideology, nation, kinship, sovereignty
Aesthetic form, genre, & textual practices of literary production
The discursive conceit of “building” & “demolition”
Energy, resource expenditure, responsibility
Indigenous epistemologies & practices as infrastructure

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