Social Infrastructures and the Public Life of Cities: materialities, institutions, and practices (Session 2)

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Blue Room, Omni, East
Organizers: Jack Layton, Alan Latham
Chairs: Lauren Wagner

Call for Submissions

Those interested in participating are invited to send abstracts (<250 words) to Alan Latham ( and Jack Layton ( by 17th October 2018.


Cities are full of infrastructures. Full of infrastructures designed to deal with power and water, transport and communication, building and trading — all of which enable the activity of cities to take place (Amin and Thrift, 2017; Latham and Wood, 2015). It is important to account for the social dimensions of these infrastructures. In geography and urban studies this has often meant thinking about how infrastructures are in all sorts of ways sites of political and social action (Graham, 2010; Kooy and Bakker, 2008), or even how human activity can be thought of as a kind of infrastructure itself (Simone, 2004). However it also means thinking about the places, regulations, and institutions that give rise to and facilitate social activity (Jackson, 2018; Koch and Latham, 2013; Koch, 2015; Sendra, 2015). In other words, thinking about the social infrastructures that facilitate public life. As Eric Klinenberg (2018) has recently argued, the social infrastructures of cities — places like libraries, parks, and public transport — are essential for building community, cooperation, and common purpose. Given a political context of polarisation and financial constraint, understanding how social infrastructures work, the effect they have, and the pressures they are under, is an essential task for those interested in making cities around the world more convivial and more equitable places to live.

In this session we would like to examine the social infrastructures of cities around the world and the contribution they make to the public life of cities. This topic sits at the intersection of a number of issues geographers are well placed to address. Social infrastructures are made up of all sorts of more-than-human elements, allowing for an exploration of the way different materials, environments, and technologies can facilitate different kinds of social and public activity (Amin, 2008; Askins and Pain, 2011). And attending to social infrastructure also invites research that is sensitive to the range of affectual and social activity that different facilities give rise to (Rose et al, 2010; Bissell, 2018; Wilson, 2013; Cloke and Conradson, 2018); what kinds of social life does a library facilitate (Mattern, 2014)? And what kinds of sociality and public-ness can be found in facilities like gyms, cafes, parks, or shopping malls (Neal, et al. 2015; Watson, 2015)? Moreover, social infrastructures are often at the centre of disputes about the public life of cities — how should libraries and parks be funded? Who gets to participate in decision making processes about these facilities? What gets designed and provided? And who has access to them? These are the issues of justice and democracy that are at the heart of providing social infrastructures. As Barnett (2018) has argued, close attention to situated experiences of injustice should be an important terrain of geographical enquiry.

The list of topics we are interested in includes but is not limited to:
- Empirical research on facilities like libraries, parks, gyms, swimming pools, museums, and community centres
- Mobility and public life
- Responses in the face of austerity
- The politics of community involvement
- Innovations in use and provision
- New sites of conviviality
- New ways of thinking about public-ness
- The materiality of public life

Cited work:
Amin, A (2008) Collective Culture and Urban Public Space. City 12(1): 5-24.
Amin, A and Thrift N (2017) Seeing Like a City. Cambridge: Polity.
Askins, K and Pain, R (2011) Contact zones: Participation, materiality, and the messiness of interaction. Environment and Planning D 29: 803-321.
Barnett, C (2018) The Priority of Injustice: Locating Democracy in Critical Theory. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Cloke, O and Conradson, D (2018) Transitional organisations, affective atmospheres and new forms of being-in-common: Post-disaster recovery in Christchurch, New Zealand. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 43(3): 360-376.
Graham, S (2010) Disrupted Cities: When Infrastructure Fails. London: Routledge.
Jackson, E (2018) Valuing the bowling alley: Contestations over the preservation of spaces of everyday urban multiculture in London. The Sociological Review, April 2018,
Klinenberg, E (2018) Palaces for the People: How to Build a More Equal and United Society. London: Penguin.
Koch, R (2015) Licensing, Popular Practices and Public Spaces: An inquiry via the geographies of street food vending. IJURR 39(6): 1231-1250.
Koch, R and Latham A (2013) On the Hard Work of Domesticating a Public Space. Urban Studies 50(1): 6-21.
Kooy, M and Bakker, K (2008) Splintered Networks: The colonial and contemporary waters of Jakarta. Geoforum 39(6): 1843-1858.
Latham, A and Wood, PRH (2015) Inhabiting Infrastructure: Exploring the interactional spaces of urban cycling. Environment and Planning A 47(2): 300-319.
Mattern, S (2014) Library as Infrastructure. Places Journal, June 2014.
Neal, S, Bennett, K, Jones, H, Cochrane, A, and Mohan, G (2015) Multiculture and Public Parks: Researching super-diversity and attachment in public green space. Population, Space and Place 21: 463-475.
Rose, G, Degen, M and Basdas, B (2010) More on ‘big things’: building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35: 334-349.
Sendra P (2015) Rethinking urban public space: Assemblage thinking and the uses of disorder. City 19(6): 820-836.
Simone, A (2004) People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3): 407-429.
Watson, S (2015) Mundane Objects in the City: Laundry Practices and the Making and remaking of Public/Private Sociality and Space in London and New York. Urban Studies 52(5): 876-890.
Wilson, HF (2013) Collective life: Parents, playground encounters and the multicultural city. Social & Cultural Geography 14(6): 625-648.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Jack Layton*, University College London, Alan Latham, University College London, Social infrastructures and public facilities: notes on Finsbury Park, London 16 9:55 AM
Presenter Geoffrey Deverteuil*, cardiff university, Beyond bare-bones survival? Service hubs, social infrastructure and the commons 16 10:11 AM
Presenter Christoph Rupprecht*, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Whose social infrastructure? Young children’s green space access during daycare in aging Japan 16 10:27 AM
Presenter Gareth Millington*, University of York, David Garbin , University of Kent, Simon Coleman, University of Toronto, Religious Urbanisation and the ‘Infrastructural Turn’ in Urban Theory: reflections from Lagos and Kinshasa 16 10:43 AM
Presenter Jennie Middleton*, University of Oxford, Social infrastructures of care and the everyday mobilities of new parents in the austere city 16 10:59 AM
Presenter Severin Guillard*, Université Paris Est - Lab'Urba, Anne Hertzog, Université Cery-Pontoise, Elizabeth Auclair, Université Cergy-Pontoise, Theaters as places of hospitality? The changing role of cultural infrastructures in the social life of French cities 16 11:15 AM

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