The RSA Research Network on Infrastructural Regionalisms (NOIR) engages research at the intersection of infrastructure and regional studies. By placing the region at the center of the ‘infrastructural turn’, the Network reflects both the increased conceptual, geographic, and political importance of infrastructure and the endemic crises of access (social space), expertise (technology), and resources (governance) that varied provision of infrastructures within regions can cause. NOIR offers multiple forums to debate the terrains of regional infrastructure, develop collaborative research projects, and facilitate meaningful dialogue between academics and practitioners.
Infrastructural regionalisms will focus on those infrastructures that have relevance beyond the local. Analyzing regions through infrastructure provides a novel perspective on the regional question as investment and disinvestment in infrastructure reveals vital discursive and material elements that produce, structure, and modify metropolitan regions worldwide. The development of infrastructural assets – ranging from transport and telecommunications to energy and sanitation – as part of regional policies raises fundamental questions about how the funding, governance, and spatiality of such infrastructure can promote urban, economic, and ecological sustainability at the regional scale. NOIR brings infrastructure to the forefront of innovative, interdisciplinary, and multi-scalar research on metropolitan regions to determine how regions are constructed, territorialized, governed, and experienced.
Given the emerging interdisciplinary interests in infrastructure and the need for versatile comparative theoretical scholarship, NOIR focuses on four key themes, each of which raises a number of conceptual and applied questions:
- Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Regional Infrastructure: How do we study, and thus produce knowledge of, infrastructure? The RSA Research Network will draw together established and emerging regional scholars from a variety of disciplinary vantage points to define the conceptual and empirical parameters of infrastructural regionalisms. From a practical perspective, we seek to construct an evaluative toolkit for cross-sectoral policy learning about regional infrastructures.
- Infrastructure and Regional Governance: Regional affairs are negotiated and organized through diverse formal and informal mechanisms. Yet, there is only a limited understanding about how diverse stakeholders coordinate interests and policies in and across regional ‘spaces’. NOIR critically assesses how infrastructure helps to produce regional governance structures by engaging scholars whose work addresses questions who is represented in infrastructure decision-making, how competing interests are mediated, and what complexities can undermine/empower regional partnerships. By determining how decisions on infrastructures are made, we seek to explain their impact on communities.
- Seeing Like a Region: The territoriality and relationality of regions defies simple transfer of either the spatial or ontological politics proscribed by seeing ‘like a state’ or ‘like a city’. Finding coherence within the ‘fuzziness’ of regional space requires alternative techniques of spatialization and political modalities. NOIR members ask who can ‘see regionally’, what it means to ‘see like a region’, and how engaging with infrastructure issues shapes regional imaginaries.
- Infrastructure and Regional Lives: The ability to produce and claim ‘the region’ is the product of a contested spatial politics; regional spaces are highly uneven, with infrastructures representing the filaments that link parts of the region together in often tenuous ways. Regional space is also experienced differently by diverse social groups, often in partial and ‘splintered’ fragmented ways. NOIR explores the everyday experiences of regional infrastructure by assessing how they mediate global flows and lived experiences.
2023 RSA Annual Conference Special Sessions
NOIR is proud to have been one of the 2023 RSA Annual Conference partners and supporters.
Regional Infrastructure and Infrastructural Regionalism: Contexts, Concepts, and Cases – Special Sessions and NOIR Keynote organized at the 2023 RSA Annual Conference “Transforming Regions: Policies and Planning for People and Places” – Ljubljana, Slovenia – 14 June 2023
The events consisted of two special paper sessions on ‘Regional Infrastructure and Infrastructural Regionalism: Contexts, Concepts, and Cases’, and a keynote plenary by Jon Silver (University of Sheffield) organized at the Regional Studies Association’s 2023 conference in Ljubljana. The purpose of these special sessions was to assess work at the intersection of infrastructure and regional studies and help chart future directions for research on ‘infrastructural regionalism’, which is the central conceptual contribution of the NOIR research network, developed over its first phase. The sessions were intended to: (1) present and review of work conducted as part of NOIR’s first phase; (2) provide opportunities to network and engage with infrastructural regionalists (particularly early career researchers and scholars from the Global South—supported by NOIR travel bursaries); and (3) chart out future directions for work at the intersection of infrastructure and regional studies. An open call solicited papers that engaged the Network’s core themes.
Special Session 1: Infrastructuring Regions
- Jen Nelles (Oxford Brookes University/NOIR) Regionalising the Infrastructure Turn (Slight Return)
- Gabriele Piazza (LSE) When the God Particle Touches the Ground: The Local Impact of Research Infrastructure Procurement in Italy
- Arnoud Lagendijk (Radboud University) Understanding Spatial Variety through Retroduction and Place-based Theory: Or How to Provide a Full Explanation of 53 Dutch Cases of Regional Cycle Infrastructure Building
- Zhe Zhang (East China Normal University – online) The Analysis of the Geographical Process of International Corridor Construction from the Perspective of Assemblage: A Case Study of the New China-Myanmar Ocean Corridor
Special Session 2: New Directions in Infrastructural Regionalism
- Jean-Paul Addie (Georgia State University/NOIR) Introducing ‘Infrastructural Times: Temporality and the Making of Global Urban Worlds
- Allen Xiao (National University of Singapore) Inserting “Urban” into Infrastructural Regionalism: A Relational Comparative Study of Mobility Infrastructure in Lagos and Benin City, Nigeria
- Soma Sarkar (Tata Institute, Mumbai) Water Crisis and Regional Infrastructural Politics: A Cast Study of Shimla, India
Special Session 3: NOIR Keynote Panel
- Jonathan Silver (University of Sheffield) Corridor Urbanization: What are Corridors and Why do they Matter for Thinking about Urban and Regional Geographies
- Grete Gansauer (Montana State University) Discussant
- Allen Xiao (National University of Singapore) Discussant
Papers presented by NOIR members helped to disseminate finding from network activities, assess the impact of our collective contributions to date (including several position papers and a special issue and edited volume that should be published within the next year). After several years of COVID-19 disruptions and online meetings, the event provide an opportunity to network with current and prospective NOIR member in person and discussion possibilities for future research collaborations and intellectual agendas. Based on the presented papers and discussions held in Ljubljana, these NOIR panels flagged most prominently the need—and challenges—of conveying social scientific and wider academic conversations around infrastructure development with the timeframes and applied concerns of policymakers and practitioners. While there are obvious synergies between these two forms of knowledge production and action, more attention clearly needs to be paid on the demands on aligning the concerns and time horizons of each sector, while recognizing the distinct contributions each makes to the development of more equitable, inclusive, and resilient regional spaces. The different national contexts (from Italy and the Netherlands to Myanmar and India), as well as the divergent infrastructural systems discussed (water, transport (active and informal), energy, knowledge-based) illustrates the value of inter-sectoral and geographic comparative work at a number of scales. Rather than moving towards a singular theory of infrastructural regionalism, NOIR’s conceptual agenda has provided a robust framework and provocations to address social and political issues arising at the intersection of infrastructure and regional studies.
NOIR travel bursaries (of $500) were provided to support attendance and participation from early-career researchers Soma Sarkar and Grete Gansauer.
NOIR Events (2019-2022)
- Pre-launch panel 1 (April 2019): Pushing the Boundaries of Regional Infrastructure: The DC Region in Focus, Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, Washington DC, USA
- Pre-launch panel 2 (April 2019): Pushing the Boundaries of Regional Infrastructure: The Los Angeles Region in Focus, Urban Affairs Association Annual Meeting, Los Angeles, CA, USA
- Event 1 (September 2019): Network Launch and Special Sessions on Defining the Terrains of Regional Infrastructure, Regional Studies Association North American Conference, Montreal QC, Canada – see call for papers here.
- Event 2 (April 2020) NOIR Workshop Infrastructure of the Governance of Regions, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh PA, USA
- Event 3 (September 2020): NOIR Junior-Senior Scholar Symposium: The Region through Infrastructure: Politics and Practice, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA
- Event 4 (April 2021): Special Sessions: The Infrastructural Lives of Regions, Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, Detroit, MI, USA
Click the link to read about the NOIR Water Infrastructure & Regional Governance Workshop
Click the link to watch a video of the NOIR plenary session at the 2022 RSA Regions in Recovery Global e-Festival (second edition).
The RSA Research Network on Infrastructural Regionalism is all about infrastructure’s place in our regional worlds and our capacity to shape our regions through its function and symbolism. We have a number of plans for networking, collaboration, and publications beyond the Networks formal events. If you are interested in joining NOIR, or would like further information, please contact reach Jean-Paul, Jen, and Michael at Infrastructural.Regionalism@gmail.com. You can also follow NOIR on Twitter (@NOIR_RSA).
More information on the Network on Infrastructural Regionalism can be found at the NOIR website.