Review Essay: Infrastructures of Citizenship in India
Sandra Calkins – 2019
In recent years, literature on infrastructure has empirically expanded and conceptually broadened in the social sciences and the humanities to a point where nearly anything can be called an infrastructure. Has it merely become a replacement for other established terms, such as actor–network, assemblage or technical system? Certainly, social theory offers a range of notions other than infrastructure that can capture the dispersed nature of agency as well as the importance and the intransigence of materiality for social practices. Nonetheless, the three books on India under review here underline the strengths of infrastructure as an analytical lens on broader political and socio-economic processes. Infrastructure is not only an analytical term that can be used to reflect on some dimensions of highly-organised social practices, it is also an unstable ethnographic object that can by equal measure animate technocratic visions of social engineering and liberal imaginations of free circulation, while enabling new forms of social action and unequal possibilities of participation and belonging. The three anthropologists, Simanti Dasgupta, Nikhil Anand and Leo Coleman, show—in different ways, different ethnographic contexts and in three different Indian cities—that water and power infrastructures tend to background politics and foreground technological issues, yet ceaselessly do political and moral work all the way to their smallest pieces and levels of interaction.