Spectacular (dis)urbanism? Destructive plasticities and highway pile-ups in the UAE

Authors: Dino Kadich*, University of Arizona - Geography & Development
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: gulf, ontology, accident, uae, infrastructure, roads, violence
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Dubai and Abu Dhabi are iconic of iconicity: as urban forms, they epitomize the imaginary of global, elite urbanism comprised of "starchitecture," jet-setting professionals, and glassy automation. The primary tool of organization for this striated space of glitzy towers and longstanding migrant neighborhoods is the highway. These black lines extend through and across the two cities, creating possibilities for movement and living and foreclosing others. These roads do not merely represent possibilities, however; they reflect an ambitious project of social transformation. This paper asks: what kinds of urban space has been produced through and on the highways that form the backbone of Dubai and Abu Dhabi? I take as my case the catastrophic pile-ups that have dotted local highways in the last 10 years and have defied the logic of efficient transportation planning, arresting movement and maiming drivers and passengers. First, I explore the history of urbanism and highway construction (and thus the history of ideology) in the UAE. To make sense of these catastrophic, violent episodes, I theorize the interruptive agency of these accidents with Malabou’s “ontology of the accident” and argue that they reflect a transgression of the private, neat, and ordered spectacular urbanism imagined by the city’s managers, developers, and elites. The extreme violence and resulting fear that these pile-ups and the broader automotive culture engender are agentive in producing another urban space and subjectivity in which the fast pace of urban life, which blurs the lines between bodies and BMWs, is taken to its dangerous conclusion.

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