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Going Underground: Design, Reputation, and Disorder in the Subterranean Infrastructure of the Global City

Venue: Birkbeck 30 Russell Square

No booking required

Conference organized by The Birkbeck Institute for Social Research (BISR) Population, Environment & Resources Group


Confirmed Keynote: Dr. Stephen Graham, Professor of Cities and Society, Newcastle University; author of Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers (Verso, 2016)

Full programme can be found here.

We seek with this conference to excavate the power relations that characterise the construction, regulation and management of underground infrastructure in global cities around the world, as well as the policies of resilience, security and public order they engender.

Much of urban 'critical infrastructure' vast systems facilitating vital circulations of transport, energy, information, water and sewage lies beneath the city. While there are technical reasons for constructing these networks underground, there is also a danger that, in being buried below the city's surface, these environments are rendered invisible, or pushed beyond public contestation.

With the exploits and vulnerabilities of the 'global city' increasingly dependent on its ability to facilitate and protect vital circulations of objects, people, and information, the temptation towards depoliticisation grows. Calls for the banning of strikes on the London Underground for reasons of reputation or economic impact or, in a different register, initiatives geared toward the securitisation of underground utility, transport and communication systems can by design or default exclude politics from these domains.

In response, the call for critical investigation must become all-the-more urgent. We aim to facilitate a deeply inter-disciplinary exploration of the social, political and economic roles of critical infrastructure, both symbolic and material in nature.

The conference will resist the anti-political impulses of the subterranean and of large technical systems to explore a wide range of pressing questions and themes:

In what ways is the reputation or image of the 'global city' dependent on subterranean infrastructures? How are subterranean infrastructures secured? What are the physical means of securing them the architectures and technologies which are implemented and what are the rationalities, motives or logics underlying these methods? Who is targeted or excluded by them? How is urban citizenship formulated in relation to these systems? What are the possibilities of resistance within subterranean infrastructures? What boundaries do they present to protest and politicisation?


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