Wednesday, June 15, 2022
Urban/Infrastructure Session 1: New Pathways, Theoretical Orientations and Approaches for Gendering Infrastructure Studies
- Aila Bandagi
Starting off the Feminist Geography conference 2022, the urban infrastructure session brought together feminist geographers from various fields and locations. The session was divided into two parts and consisted of panelists who are coming out with a new book very soon. Though some of the panelists were not able to join the session owing to their own care work responsibilities, the session chairs Yaffa Truelove and Anu Sabhlok asked all their participants two broad question:
What are the useful theories and methodologies that you have used in your work
What are the challenges you faced in doing this research
Julie Gamble spoke first on her research project titled “Gendered perceptions of cycling infrastructure under pandemic conditions in Quito, Ecuador.” Dr. Gamble spoke about her ethnographic work using whatsapp as a tool, and described that she was pulling back from mobility studies and focussing on Foucauldian biopolitics. She is also drawing on the work of Feminist Science and Technlogy studies to understand care as a model of social reproduction.
Anu Sabhlok and Kanchan Gandhi described their work as originating from engagements with the queer movements in Chandigarh, India. The described the Pride march as a rupture in the everyday heteronormativity of the “idealist,” planned city. They theorize that the roads that are sites of heteronormative state power get transformed during the pride into colorful walking routes - calling the pride as a disruption to make the imagined utopian city of Chandigarh a reality. They also describe their challenges as three cis-gender outsiders studying the queer community.
The discussion session brought up an interesting question on what metaphors can be used and engaged in order to understand the human-technological interactions. The panelists addressed by invoking the idea of fluidity and friendship to challenge fixedness and enable more than body social relations respectively.
Urban/Infrastructure Session 2: New Pathways, Theoretical Orientations and Approaches for Gendering Infrastructure Studies
- Aila Bandagi
The second part of the urban infrastructure session continued conversations about water and disaster response with the panelists. Responding to prompts from the session chairs about methodologies, theories and challenges, the panelists briefly presented their own research.
Christine Knott presented her research titled “Water and worker infrastructures: key linkages in plantation economies?” and said that she was looking at infrastructure as a permeable membrane between human and environment. Heather OLeary presented her research titled “Infrastructures and the Immeasurable: Gendered Labor during Florida’s 2017-2019 Red Tide Catastrophe.” She described that she shifted from deep ethnography to “nethnography” and is looking at analyzing twitter posts of marginalized people and women who are trying to communicate about the harmful effects of the algae bloom.
Yaffa Truelove presented her project titled “The Prosthetics of Infrastructure: Invisible Bodies, Devalued Labor and the Everyday Circulation of Water in Delhi.” Her theoretical frame looks at bodies as parts of the infrastructure or prosthetics that make the systems work by doing invisible, free, daily care work (above and beyond labor) . She also highlights that this prosthetics creates different burdens based on socio-political hierarchies and it devalues not only the work but also the lives of the people. She identifies her challenges as trying to grapple with understanding the nuanced social difference as a foreigner or as a privileged, upper caste person.
The discussion session included questions about how we take into account and respond to gendered infrastructures. Social media was highlighted as a space where marginalized people are sometimes able to express themselves.
Political Possibilities in Blurring Boundaries of Social Reproduction
In the workshop “Within/Without Value? Reading Recent Feminist Debates on Social Reproduction, Value, Work, and Life,” organizers Leah Montange (University of Toronto) and Lia Frederiksen (University of British Columbia) created a space for engagement with scholarship pushing the boundaries of both labour geographies and feminist geographies at their intersection, and the political stakes of such work.
Participants were invited to prepare for the workshop by reading three recent texts (1) on Social Reproduction, a classic framework in Marxist and socialist feminist scholarship which continues to provoke debates. The readings challenged and blurred the boundaries of social reproduction as spatially and conceptually distinct from labour which produces value within capitalism (i.e. a household labour and factory-floor binary) (Lia). The challenges to this binary have largely come from work which theorizes from the Global South, Blackness, and spaces of precarity–theorizations which can also enrich research when sites may be in the Global North (Leah). For example, Mullings' concept of “life-work” highlights “the diverse forms of work that sustain life” (p. 152) across varied spaces, and challenges us to move beyond categories of capitalism in thinking about the social reproduction of human life.
Araby Smyth (York University), Meera Karunanthan (Carleton University), and Kiley Goyette (University of Toronto) shared “close readings” of the texts, enriching and guiding the discussion, in relation to their own empirical and theoretical work. For many participants, strict spatial, temporal, and social boundaries between socially reproductive work, and conventional waged labour, simply “don’t fit” the empirical realities of those with whom they research (including Araby, & participants Lara Cookabaugh & Masaya Llavaneras Blanco). The spaces and scales of social reproduction are blurred and stretched in everyday life (Araby)
Participant Snehanjali Sumanth (Carleton University) articulated that the question in social reproduction research has often been “how is social reproduction exploited within capitalism?” (as necessary to capitalist production), rather than “how is socially reproductive work resisting capitalism?” – and noted that the two questions are not mutually exclusive.
The discussion thus blurred boundaries between finding the harsh realities and limited possibilities of resistance depressing, and finding possibilities for hope and optimism (Leah and Lia). As people persist within exploitative systems through socially reproductive practices, they may feed the same system which disposes of them (Lia, drawing on R.W. Gilmore) but they survive. Even in such bleak contexts, “the work of enduring is resistance when something is trying to kill you” (Lia).
Perhaps this is why it is useful to maintain some distinction/boundary between work which serves capital, and that which creates other possibilities, despite the fact that the boundaries of such categories are blurred and messy. Creativity, life, and beauty continue to arise out of marginal spaces, where people are struggling to survive, in ways which do not only serve capitalism (Meera). While overlooked in classic Marxist theorizations (that see resistance as arising from the organization of waged labourers) these have long been sites of complete strategies of resistance to the exploitation of capitalism. Social reproduction is not just about reproducing the capitalist system, but also communities and spaces of resistance (Meera).
This workshop is part of the “Future of Work” theme/stream at the conference.
Winders, Jamie, and Barbara Ellen Smith. “Social Reproduction and Capitalist Production: A Genealogy of Dominant Imaginaries.” Progress in Human Geography 43, no. 5 (October 1, 2019): 871–89. https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132518791730.
Mullings, Beverley. “Caliban, Social Reproduction and Our Future yet to Come.” Geoforum 118 (2021): 150–58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2020.11.007.
Mezzadri, Alessandra. “A Value Theory of Inclusion: Informal Labour, the Homeworker, and the Social Reproduction of Value.” Antipode 53, no. 4 (2021): 1186–1205. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12701.