Infrastructure and Logistics

Disquieting ambivalence of mega-infrastructures: Kenya’s Standard Gauge Railway as spectacle and ruination

Putting research on the socio-political effects of Kenya’s new Standard Gauge Railway in conversation with geographically and anthropologically grounded scholarship on infrastructure, the article analyses how megaprojects, in spite of state spectacles of infrastructure-qua-development, are embroiled in multiple modalities of ruination. It specifically highlights how mega-infrastructures disrupt ecologies of social reproduction: the new railway disorders people’s mobility patterns and their access to essential infrastructures, as well as decouples their labour from transport systems and informal road economies central to self-sustainment. The article conceptualises these intersections between infrastructure’s spectacle and ruination as disquieting ambivalence of infrastructure. Shifting from spectacle to ruination – rather than oscillating between the two – this ambivalence is not one of uncertainty, malleability, or open-ended futures that are analysed in recent strands of critical scholarship on infrastructure, in which material devastation is often bracketed due to this literature’s predominant focus on multiple temporalities of infrastructure as heterogeneous possibilities of reconfiguration. The article, instead, shows that this ambivalence of infrastructure is disquieting – fraught with precarity, struggle, and despair, as the lives of those in shadows of mega-infrastructures need to be rebuilt within the ruins of the here and now, and of infrastructure’s spectacle.

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Volume 40 Issue 5

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