The Regional Studies Association Research Network on Infrastructural Regionalism (NOIR) is a network of scholars engaging in research at the intersection of infrastructure and regional studies. Infrastructural regionalism focuses 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.
By placing the region at the center of the ‘infrastructural turn’, 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. The Research Network offers multiple forums to debate the terrains of regional infrastructure, develop collaborative research projects, and facilitate meaningful dialogue between academics and practitioners. Network activities are generously supported by the Regional Studies Association (RSA) Research Networks funding scheme.
Given the emerging interdisciplinary interests in infrastructure and the need for versatile comparative theoretical scholarship, NOIR focuses on four key themes:
- Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Regional Infrastructure: How do we study, and thus produce knowledge of, infrastructure? NOIR draws together established and emerging regional scholars from a variety of disciplines to define the conceptual and empirical parameters of infrastructural regionalisms.
- Infrastructure and Regional Governance: Regional affairs are negotiated and organized through diverse formal and informal mechanisms. 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.
- Seeing Like a Region: Finding coherence within the ‘fuzziness’ of regional space requires alternative techniques of spatialization and political modalities. NOIR asks who can ‘see regionally’, what it means to ‘see like a region’, and how engaging with infrastructural 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. NOIR explores regional infrastructure by assessing how they mediate global flows and everyday experiences.
WORKSHOP ON INFRASTRUCTURAL TIMES
This document reports on a series of virtual workshop sessions exploring the temporalities of urban and regional infrastructure, held from June 14 – 18, 2021. The international, interdisciplinary workshop was held as part of the Regional Studies Association’s Regions in Recovery e-Festival, with generous funding support from the Regional Studies Association (RSA) through the NOIR Research Network Grant.
Workshop Scope and Goals
The RSA NOIR workshop on Infrastructural Times was designed to to bring together new and original research that critically examines the role of time and temporality in how we study, produce knowledge of, and inform decision-making on urban and regional infrastructure. The past two decades have witnessed the emergence and maturation of an ‘infrastructure turn’ across a range of disciplines that belies the notion that urban infrastructure is a staid or neutral set of physical artefacts. Infrastructural systems are vital elements that make urban life possible in its myriad forms, yet they are produced and governed over variegated spatial frames and are experienced differently by diverse social groups, often in partial and fragmented ways. The uneven and contested nature of infrastructural spaces means they are always in a state of becoming, and as such, are built upon, and establish new, temporalities.
As an entry point into the discussion, NOIR produced a broad-ranging discussion paper that surveyed how the intersection of time and infrastructure had been analyzed in the current literature, and developed some initial provocations regarding how we might conceptualize the relationships between temporality and the infrastructural dimensions of cities and regions. Here, we proposed considering three core temporal modalities over which infrastructures unfold. First, urban-regional infrastructures can be approached through periodizations in which dominant approaches to material and governance technologies establish specific logics of design, construction, management, and utility – even as they blur at the edges, overlap, and vary depending upon the phenomena being analyzed. Second the notion of temporal cycles offers a lens to examine the overlayered and often contradictory timelines the urban-regional infrastructures engender and are shaped by, including political cycles, policy formation, environmental assessments, construction, and infrastructural lifespans themselves. Third, infrastructural spaces are animated through rhythms, that capture notions of monumental and mundane continuity and change evidence in seasonal transitions (the fluctuations of rainwater and snowmelt) to the daily pulses and flows of the 24-hour city. We intend these frames to serve as a conceptual point of inquiry into the formation of urban regional spaces and lives, and as a practical challenge for those making decisions about how infrastructures are regulated, maintained, governed, used, brought into being, and rendered obsolete.
Our collective goal at the workshop was to problematize infrastructure time as an empirical concern, conceptual framework, and methodological approach. Through fostering an explicitly interdisciplinary dialogue, the Infrastructural Times sessions promoted new scholarship that helps us to understand how the spatio-temporal dynamics of infrastructure shape cities, regions, and everyday life in new and generative ways.
The NOIR Infrastructural Times workshop is intended to result in three primary outcomes:
- An accessible and outward-facing workshop discussion paper.
- An edited volume to be published with a leading university press on the topic of infrastructure time.
- A research agenda that will form the foundation of future external research grants on the topic of infrastructural governance and regional lives.
The NOIR Workshop on Infrastructural Times was held as a series of six special sessions organized in conjunction with the Regions in Recovery: Building Sustainable Futures Global e-Festival. First, a keynote session held on June 14 featured lectures from Ayona Datta (University College London) and Olivier Coutard (Ecole des Ponts Paris-Tech) and discussant commentary from Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University) that offered a series of vital provocations and established the key questions that shaped the conversation over the following days. The Keynote session was attended by a diverse and global audience of 55.
The main body of the workshop consisted of five two-hour research panels, which were held from June 14-18. Sessions featured a diverse set of graduate students, early career researchers, and established scholar from, and working on, a wide variety of national and regional contexts. To facilitate discussion, we requested authors to circulate draft papers among their fellow panelists prior to the conference.
Broadly, each of the five research sessions was organized into an open panel lasting between 75 and 90 minutes, with participants given 15 research presentations and time dedicated to audience Q&A. The remainder of the session was devoted to focused workshopping of presentation and draft papers, session offering the presenters an opportunity to engage each other’s work in depth and detail. The goal of the latter portion of the session was for for authors to develop their papers for collective publication in a less formal discussion. To this end, the workshop conveners moderated an open and rigorous debate on the methodological, disciplinary, and thematic approaches emergent within and between the session’s contributions.
Attendees in the public section were able to pose questions to individual researchers and the panel as a whole, while using Zoom’s chat function to engage in a robust dialogue among the broader audience. For each of the research sessions, one of the workshop organizers served as a rapporteur, capturing the key observations raised in the discussion. The public panels were recorded with the permission of the panels and made available on the RSA’s Regions in Recovery YouTube channel (until 31 August, 2021) in order to ensure broad dissemination to a wide audience of researchers.
Thanks to generous support from the RSA we are able to cover the registration fee for presenters.
The additional information and the organizers/authors short bios are included in the report.