University of Sussex
Pickard, Justin - corrected version.pdf (24.01 MB)

Mutability, mobility, worlding: appropriate infrastructure and urban sociotechnical change in Ahmedabad, Gujarat

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posted on 2023-06-10, 03:46 authored by Justin Pickard
This thesis investigates the relationship between urban infrastructure and sociotechnical change. Drawing on 10 months of field research in the city of Ahmedabad, in Gujarat, the study provides an account of relations between infrastructural undertakings and their contexts, and how these shape subsequent patterns of continuity and change. This connection, I argue, is particularly apparent in the urban milieu, where planners have to contend with existing infrastructure as part of the built environment. Supplementing this interpretive account, the study draws on post-war writings on appropriate technology, working to update and evaluate the utility of ‘appropriateness’ as a criterion for evaluating infrastructure projects, particularly those implemented in an urban or postcolonial setting. Identifying infrastructure as a slippery, opaque, and often invisible research subject—something exceeding representational writing and the single, clearly-bounded field site—the study adopts a research methodology inspired by practices of flânerie, deploying observational techniques, practices of urban walking, and performative modes of writing to trace the configuration of specific infrastructure projects and processes of urban change. Drawing on recent work on infrastructure from anthropology, STS, urban geography, and policy studies, the study mobilises a range of concepts to further illuminate the status of objects and events encountered in the city, and situating them in relation to broader processes of change and transformation. In developing this account, and moving from description to theory, the thesis addresses three sets of relational dynamics—mutability, mobility, and worlding. The first of these dynamics looks at the mutability of a given system or artefact, its capacity for adaptive modification, or, conversely, its resistance to change. The second addresses how infrastructures are transferred from one setting to another, paying attention to the pressures of new or unforeseen contexts of use. The third examines how understandings of context are enacted through the ‘worlding’ of infrastructure and urban technology—exploring situations where different actors’ worldings compete or exist in tension with one another. As observed in Ahmedabad, a postcolonial ‘mega-city’ and home to a new, emerging urban middle class, these dynamics complicate the relationship between infrastructure and its contexts—interactions shaped by crosscutting obdurate and fluid materialities (‘mutability’), enmeshed in global circuits of transport and exchange (‘mobility’), and materialising various forms of identity and affiliation (‘worlding’). Mobilising ‘appropriateness’ as a norm and evaluative criteria, and reflecting on the likely characteristics of ‘appropriate infrastructure’, is, I conclude, an effective way to foreground these neglected dimensions, and, in doing so, contribute to future work on urban transformations and infrastructural change.


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University of Sussex

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