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Infrastructures from below

13 May

Today, AbdouMaliq Simone has been at the Think & Drink Colloqium from the Urban Studies Department at Humboldt-University.

Simone is an urban sociologist who works especially on the cities of the south. I haven’t yet read much of him, but I think that what I have read so far is fascinating. Theoretically he is concerned with relational sociology and practically with urban politics from below and with the daily practices of urban dwellers in the cities of the south.

What does he mean by the latter, the urban practices? Simone understands urban practices as a way of “moving on”, of “circulating”. People move on, create something out of the materials that they find, sometimes successful sometimes not (hence, the relation between social actors and materials is central in his work).  Simone makes his rather abstract points about practices and agency by giving picturesque examples of city dwellers in Jakarta: People who start a business just for the sake of moving on or showing to their friends that they do something, entrepreneurs with provisorical stores whose existence is at some point negotiated every day anew.

Simone’s approach could, I think, be especially interesting for analyzing urban practices in European cities. European sociology is at some point foremost interested in looking at “rigid” institutions that we already know of: like family, market, capitalism etc. What Simone does is to look at how individuals (out of urge and through their daily practices) create infrastructures (with a fluent, but at some point stable character). That makes a lot of sense for cities like Jakarta (one of his areas of research), but I think also for any other European city, especially in times where individuals cope with poverty or when social movements claim rights to the city via creating infrastructures from below: New things emerge from urban practices.