Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Economic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: Exchange
Secondary Theme: Environment and Environmental Inequality
As the financialization of installations, utilities and services blurs state and corporate interests, infrastructure becomes a focal point for theorizing the limits of markets. The financial crisis of 2008 fostered a resurgence of interest in promises of state-led development through infrastructural investment. In their quest for profitable investment opportunities, global markets found in infrastructure an ideal means of circulating capital and extracting surplus. New social, political and economic alignments fracture old ones, as a frenzy of infrastructural investments open new trade corridors, securitized production sites, transportation hubs and financial services. Money circulates through these infrastructures along with commuters, information, energy, waste and consumer goods, reconfiguring and often disenfranchising the lives of millions worldwide (Harvey et al 2017).
When governments partner up with corporations and financers, installations and services are recast as asset classes. Revenue flows that are based on infrastructure use and access become the primary concern for the people and agencies investing in infrastructure (Appel and Kumar 2015). Financialized infrastructure further entangles sovereignty and risk, seeing as state projects often rely on wealth funds, investment portfolios, and bonds markets to safeguard livelihoods of citizens. From pension funds to climate adaptation, livelihoods are intertwined with infrastructures as financialized commodities. If David Harvey (2007) paused on the infrastructure “fix” as both arresting the ongoing creation of value and opening up new investment opportunities when infrastructure ages; ethnography opens up a methodological space to trace the new collectivities and politics that are effectuated, both by infrastructure’s durability and by its corrosion (Larkin 2013).
This panel examines existing and anticipated infrastructures as financial entities, and attends to the strategies and contestations that these forms of financialization produce on the ground. Presentations will explore how the high speed rail in Spain has been essential to the circulation of financial capital through the built environment; the efforts to replace the public banking and insurance infrastructure for retirement provisioning in Germany with a global financialized one; how Chinese investment in green infrastructure realigns rural-urban inequalities; the conversion of damage to value through the insurance infrastructure of weather events in Paraguay; and how the hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in the United States effectuates greater job insecurity and investor interest.
Appel, H. and M. Kumar. 2015. "Finance." Theorizing the Contemporary, Cultural Anthropology website, September 24, 2015.
Harvey, D. 2007. The limits to capital. London: Verso.
Harvey, P., C. Bruun Jensen and A. Morita, eds. 2017. Infrastructures and social complexity: A companion. London: Routledge.
Larkin, B. 2013. “The politics and poetics of infrastructure”. Annual Review of Anthropology 42: 327-343.