Panel 4 Chair, Charles Heller

Infrastructure of Race and


Omar Jabary Salamanca
13 January 2021
“But I also know a silence: Ruminations on film, labor and infrastructure”

Abstract ︎︎︎
There is a scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) when a Judean leader, John Cleese, encourages a crowd to rebel against the Romans. After condemning the evils of empire, the leader poses a rhetorical question: “what have the Romans done for us!?” Timidly but gradually voices from the crowd begin to enthusiastically catalogue Rome’s infrastructure accomplishments. “All right,” responded the leader, “but apart from the sanitation, irrigation, roads and a fresh water system, what have the Romans ever done for us?”. This comical scene captures a profound contradiction, an odd idea that has become common sense: that the very infrastructure that facilitated the incorporation of peoples and places into global networks of dispossession is the highest contribution of Empires to the colonized world. Concealed behind this liberal imaginary however lie the violence it took to conceive, build and maintain a material world which continues to be vital for the extraction, circulation and accumulation of indigenous wealth and resources. In this presentation I share preliminary work on a film essay which focuses on the neglected figure of the worker in colonial representations committed to the ideological project of glorifying the sublime power of modern infrastructure. Using colonial audiovisual archives, the project explores how workers figure in these reels, often as racialized surplus and absence. Underpinning this project is a concern with the tensions between the visible and the invisible, between the represented and the (un)representable and with the limits of the visible in critical studies of infrastructure.

Bios ︎︎︎
Omar Jabary Salamanca is an urban geographer and FNRS Research Fellow in OMAM (Observatoire des Mondes Arabes et Musulmans) at the Université libre de Bruxelles. Previously he was an FWO Research Fellow in the Department of Conflict and Development at Ghent University; a Visiting Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London; and a Marie Curie Research Fellow in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University. His work lies at the intersection of urban studies, settler colonialism, political economy and Middle East studies. He is also interested in science and technology studies, labor, political ecology, settler urbanism, violence, protest and social movements. He is completing his first book manuscript, Fabric of Life. The Infrastructure of Colonial Capitalism in Palestine, under contract with Verso Books. He is also a leading curator and programmer for the Eye On Palestine Arts and Film Festival.

Zandi Sherman
13 January 2021
“Racial Infrastructure: The Circulation of the Closed Compound”

Abstract ︎︎︎
Colonialism left in its wake vast infrastructural networks that continue to shape the patterns of extraction and mobility in contemporary Africa. This debris is not limited to material remains, but also the epistemic and ontological regimes embedded in, and enabled by these infrastructures. Kimberley, now a largely unremarkable mining town, was in the 19th century a global infrastructure hub. The ‘City of Diamonds’ had transportation and electricity networks more advanced than most of the world’s major cities. With the introduction of the closed compound system, Kimberley’s mines fundamentally transformed the infrastructural landscape of colonial rule across Africa. The Kimberley compounds were designed and managed by various technical experts, architects, engineers, doctors etc. These experts were tasked with designing enclosures that would maximize labour productivity, and balance economic constraints with mortality rates. In so doing, they relied upon and produced racialized theories of the body - disease, diet, hygiene, and physical strength. Indeed, as their technical blueprints circulated across Africa and Europe, so too did the racial logics embedded within them. This paper takes these publications and reports as the objects through which to explore how the racial and technical emerge simultaneously. The compound, most often studied as an infrastructure of racial domination, has rarely been recognized as productive of emergent notions of ‘race.’ Where the experts framed their work as turning on the observation of ‘the native races’; in fact, in the design and management of these compounds, those very experts were producing the racial truths they claimed only to uncover. These massive carceral complexes now sit abandoned and out of site. However, the racial infrastructure that developed with and through their administration endures.

Bios ︎︎︎
Zandi Sherman is a Ph.D. student in Women's and Gender Studies at Rutgers University. She has a masters degree in Global Studies, jointly awarded by the Universities of Cape Town and Freiburg. Her research is focused on public infrastructures, which she uses as objects through which to consider the production and endurance of race in South Africa. Her PhD research looks at mining compounds and water management devices to think about how the technical and political registers at which they function coincide.

Adesoji Adedipe13 January 2021
“Backyard Housing and Segregation: A colonial legacy in Africa? Nigeria and South Africa in comparative perspective”

Abstract ︎︎︎ This study examines how group segregation is reinforced by spatial or physical organization in post-colonial Nigerian and South African cities. Housing features and legacies of British colonial rule have endured since the 19th century and remain visible in the environment in both states under review. This study pays particular attention to the social infrastructure of Ibadan and Durban, both of which were colonial administrative centers. Ibadan in Nigeria, and Durban in South Africa have retained segregated residential districts, more like a colonial enclaves within the city and actually sustained a system of residential estates for which  the colonial government created the models of class and racial segregation respectively. One major feature of the buildings in the residential estates in the core of the city is a ‘bungalow compound complex’ with one main house and a servant’s quarters behind it in the backyard. These servants quarters were initially designed to house domestic servants of colonial masters during colonialism. This study concentrates on the servants quarters in the backyard widely known as “Boys quarters” in Nigeria, and “Servants quarters” in South Africa in the context of the modern residential estates in 21st century-Ibadan and -Durban. The study utilizes the macro historical approach to compare and explore the issues which can justify the enduring presence of the “Boys Quarters” and “Servants quarters” as legacies of discrimination in housing, and segregation, while also addressing the material and emotional dimensions of the conflicts thereof. Optimistically, the understanding derived from this study may inform future policies towards the gentrification of the “Boys quarters” and “Servants quarters” as an element of the dwelling unit and creating a sense of belonging in the urban space for those who have taken residence in these backyard dwellings in African cities.

Bios ︎︎︎
Adesoji Adedipe holds a B.A. [Hons.] and M. A. degrees in History, and Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Ado-Ekiti and the University of Ibadan Nigeria respectively. Currently, he is a part time lecturer in the department of History and PhD candidate in the department of political science, both in the school of social sciences, at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, Durban, South Africa. Adesoji was selected for the United States Department of State’s Bursary for Applied Dual-Use Bio Security Education at the University of Bradford in 2012. He also holds the prestigious Swiss government (Pro-Helvetia) scholarship which afforded him the opportunity to study for a post graduate diploma in Federalism, Decentralization and Conflict Resolution at the Institute of Federalism, University of Fribourg Switzerland in 2012. Adesoji is also a Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) Scholar which took him to the International Summer School at the University of Oslo where he studied Peace Research at Graduate level in 2013. He also holds the Australia Africa Fellowship Award which took him to the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia also in 2013. He is also a holder of the Brown University International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI) Providence, Rhode Island, USA fellowship which he won in 2016. He also won an NIHSS funded South African Sociological Association (SASA) scholarship to attend the Doctoral School and the SASA annual congress 2017 at North West University Mafikeng, South Africa. Adesoji also serves as a reviewer for the South African Journal of Public Administration and Management (JOPAM). Adesoji is also an external examiner to the Political and Cultural studies program at University of Limpopo, South Africa. His area of academic interest includes, History, Inequality, Diversity Management, Political Economy, South-South cooperation, International Development Studies, Federalism, Ethnicity, Comparative politics, State Organization, Conflict transformation, and Democracy.
International Conference 12-15 Jan 2021, Time zone WAT/CET