Urbanization across the li-ion network: towards an urban political ecology of automation

Authors: Alberto Valz Gris*, Polytechnic University of Turin
Topics: Urban Geography, Political Geography, Qualitative Methods
Keywords: automation, urban political ecology, global production networks, multi-site ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Public discussions around the current wave of labor automation are characterized by a strong polarization between radical optimism and sheer pessimism. Not only this risks fetishizing technological progress, it is also opaque with respect to the production of urban space across geographies of difference upon which capitalist development insists. The present paper seeks to explore a distinctively urban spatial perspective in the study of automation technologies in order to trigger more nuanced evaluations. Most importantly, it aims at contributing to political ecological reflections on the production of the urban by understanding automation as a relevant dynamic through notions of socionatural transformation, urban metabolism and uneven development. How is the increasing diffusion of labor automation technologies shaping processes of urbanization at the planetary scale? Retracing the urban across its different 'moments' requires exceeding the bounded dimension of the city as an analytical object. Taking cues from the site multiple heuristic and working through a multi-sited, relational ethnographic practice, the project retraces the global production network of lithium-ion batteries linking extractive landscapes in South American salt flats to rapidly multiplying Chinese gigafactories. This paper presents data collected through the first of these mobile ethnographies carried out on the Argentina–Chile infrastructural corridor joining lithium-rich salars with industrial shipping ports. Preliminary data on subsequent sites is considered so as to formulate a first discussion and further research hypotheses.

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