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9781781685877_Extrastatecraft-max_221-81b9c5b6ce1b5845f8cf37382ff88f51Verso kindly sent me an advance review copy of Keller Easterling’s new book Extrastatecraft (ESC): The Power of Infrastructure Space. This book nicely intersects with many of my own research interests and with my course urban arrangements – I will report back once I have read through it. For now, I wanted to highlight the website that accompanies the book and nicely outlines the project:

ESC researches global infrastructure as a medium of polity. Some of the most radical changes to the globalising world are being written, not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in the language of infrastructure. Even building enclosures, typically considered to be geometrical formal objects, have become infrastructural—mobile, monetized technologies moving around the world as repeatable phenomena. Infrastructure is then not the urban substructure, but the urban structure itself—the very parameters of global urbanism.

The website has some detailed information on some of the chapters of the book, such as free zones, that is well worth exploring. From my initial look the website goes beyond the book’s content and has fascinating information including on Eurovision and the shift by European countries from competing on the battleground to technology.

Television was symbolic of a country’s technological development, and each country was busy developing its own broadcasting protocols. The most important parameter was the size of image defined by the number of lines per second broadcasted over a continuous analogue signal. Protocols in use ranged from the 405-line standard used by the BBC in the UK, developed by the EMI Research Team, to the 819-line standard used in France, developed by René Barthélemy. Although a third one, the 625-line standard, became de facto standard and the only one used for colour transmission, France continued to use its 819-line standard until 1984 when the last transmitter was closed down. This coincided with the presidency of François Mitterrand, who implemented the 819-line broadcast standard in 1948. France stuck to the 819-line standard so long not only because it was more advanced, but also to protect the national market. Supranational broadcasting was a difficult and complex technical issue, firstly because of converting between varying numbers of lines per second and frame rates used by different countries, and secondly there was little incentive for these countries to synchronise protocols due to the limited number of programmes one could broadcast in a broader region.

Easteringly provides a fascinating account of why Eurovision has such a distinct geography:

  • Rule #1: Have a national broadcasting corporation which is a member of the EBU

  • Rule #2: Be part of the european broadcasting area

  • Rule #3: Have the capacity to broadcast the entire event live

    The combination of the first two rules opens up the competition to countries not conventionally considered “European”. The African and Asian coast of the Mediterranean are within the boundaries of European Broadcasting Areas and, as most of the countries in that region have television companies that are member of EBU (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia), all of them are potential participants in Eurovision. Out of these eight countries, Israel is the only one that has regularly participated in the competition since 1973, winning the contest three times. Morocco was the only other country in the group to compete in 1980.

More soon!

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Urban Assemblages. How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies. Edited by Ignacio Farías, Thomas Bender. Routledge – 2009 – 352 pages

Below is the course description that I am continuing to develop for my upcoming course Urban Arrangements. A key text for this course is  Urban Assemblages and the key thinkers that the course will engage on the urban question are Lewis Mumford, Bruno Latour, Nigel Thrift and Ash Amin (at the moment). I am currently going through some of the key texts again (i have just finished Technics and Civilization by Mumford and going through Aramis by Latour) and will hopefully pull a few posts together for the blog as I develop the course.

Any suggested readings and/or comments are more than welcome.

Urban Arrangements:

Urban Studies meets Science, Technology and Society (STS) Studies

Urban Arrangements offers students an introduction, in the context of urban studies, to the study of Science, Technology and Society (STS), the approach of Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and the concept of assemblage/agencement. In Urban Studies, ANT is credited with transforming and challenging conventional understandings of the object of study, reshaping our view of urban infrastructures, built environments, ecologies, urbanites, practices, spaces, economies and other core issues central to urban studies. This course will cover the central literature in urban studies utilizing ANT approaches and engage with the debate that has emerged between proponents of ANT urbanism and “traditional” critical urban theorists.

Science, Technology and Society (STS) Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines the creation, development, and consequences of science and technology in their cultural, historical, and social contexts. This course aims to provide an overview urban studies’ engagement with STS, and specifically Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) and the central concepts of assemblage/agencement. Bruno Latour, one of the central figures of the “Paris school” of STS, with his colleagues Callon and Law, developed ANT in part from Deleuze and Guttari’s concept of assemblage/agencement. ANT treats objects as part of social networks and is a “material-semiotic” method that tries to explain how material-semiotic networks come together as a whole. As this course illustrates, urban studies’ utilization of ANT and Deleuzian notions of assemblage/agencement has resulted in important new avenues of research.

Technology and the city have always had a special relationship. Indeed CCNY alumni Lewis Mumford produced path-breaking work addressing the link between technologies and urban history and how cities and technical networks co-evolve. Until recently, however, Mumford’s path was one few urbanists followed. The rise of STS has begun to change urban studies approach to technology and the city and over the past decade urban studies has returned to a more extensive and innovative engagement with city-technology relations. Some of the most important texts coming out of urban studies over the past decade have utilized, both explicitly and implicitly, an ANT approach and this course will engage with these texts.

 

I did a book review for Executive Magazine on Jim Krane’s new book in Dubai. Due to space limitations the book review was edited down to size, below is the full version of my review that  gives a much better idea of what  the book is all about:

The first power plant was established in the Emirate of Dubai in 1961 when citizens of the small city-state still lived a life dominated by their desert environ. Fifty years later residents of Dubai consume more electricity per capita than any other person on the planet. Now the global financial crisis is slowing things down. The long time residents in Dubai, who did not lose their jobs, and Dubai citizens will no doubt be breathing a collective sigh of relief and undergoing a period of reflection.

What has just happened over the past fifty years in Dubai? Jim Krane, a journalist who was the AP’s Persian Gulf correspondent, in his new book, City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism, attempts to tell the story of Dubai and in doing so tries to make sense of the phenomena that is Dubai:

“Dubai is a city of incongruities. The roads are modern but the network is incoherent. The cars are advanced but driving is anarchic. Malls are rife but there is no art museum. The airport is world class, but education is substandard. An optimist would say that’s the essence of an emerging market, the reason Dubai crackles with opportunity. A realist would point to a government that preferred impulsive decisions to level-headed planning,” he writes.

City of Gold is a book that is steeped with the knowledge of someone who has spent a long time in and thinking about the economic phenomena that is Dubai and the oil rich Gulf at large. The economic success story of Dubai is there for all to see and Krane does an excellent job detailing it. Krane gives fascinating accounts of how the ideas for the Burj al Arab, the palm and the tallest building in the world the Burj Dubai Kahlife came to life. The style of the book is very journalistic, keen to allow both sides of the story to come out and to ensure that the people he interviews do most of the talking. The book is a whirlwind tour of all the different issues that have been in and out of the newspapers in recent times.

The book is mapped out into two halves: The first detailing the rapid rise of Dubai from its early history to the present day and its grasping of the capitalist system; the second half of the book deals with the arguments thrown against Dubai such as the labor abuses, the environmental degradation, the sex and slavery. However, this is a book that is written knowing that certain perspectives, such as the profile given of Sheikh Mohammed, have to be elevated and negative aspects need to be minimal. There is a reluctance by Krane to stick his neck out and delve into areas that may get it chopped off. Subsequently, the book contributes little new information or perspective into understanding Dubai.

A Liberal Dictatorship

In summing up the strange peculiarity that is Dubai, as a place that is strongly capitalist but also run by an autocratic regime, Krane summarizes that Dubai, “…enjoys broad social freedoms which substitute for its lack of political ones.” But Krane does not do well enough in convincing us why this is the case. Instead Krane does the unthinkable: he quotes British diplomat Anthony Harris. “People don’t want to replace tribal rule. It is my absolute conviction that they are happy with it.” Krane made it quite clear that the British government especially, has done more than anyone to keep the Maktoum family in power, what else would or could a British diplomat say? Instead Krane should be asking Emiratis or even different residents of Dubai to add to the official narrative. Do they enjoy “broad social freedoms” and if so have they have successfully substituted for Dubai’s lack of political freedoms. A fuller picture needs to be fleshed out in virtually all the topics that Krane approaches.

There is a general narrative in the book that takes the official line for granted. Questions are not asked hard enough. Do, or rather can, social freedoms substitute for political ones? Are they interchangeable? What do those living in Dubai think? Krane systematically fails to bring out fully what Emirati citizens and long term residents think, feel and express regarding their transformation from small scale traders to the capitalist elite. We know Dubai has been an economic success but has it been a social one?

Not asking these tricky questions fully and questioning assumed facts is where that City of Gold systematically fails. It is packed with superficial generalizations that lead to dubious conclusions and giant leaps of faith; sometimes of the worst order. When it comes to ‘Arabs’ Krane seems to patricianly revel in stereotypes: “Sheikh Rashid maintained a punishing work ethic in a region known for languor.” Describing Arabs as lazy is not something you expect a journalist who works for the Economist or the AP to fall into. Despite, the racist stereotyping that unfortunately slips into other places in the book there are redeeming features to this book. It is full of strong individual stories. Krane shines when he is talking about the various characters in the book or recounting narratives of how the Burj al Arab came about. His writing style is also highly readable.

In adding to our understanding of the hugely complex phenomena that is Dubai, Krane largely fails. But in explaining the landscape, how Dubai became an economic powerhouse and some of the fascinating stories that Dubai holds within it, Krane is excellent.

Knowledge

Where this book fails is also where Dubai has been most criticized: originality. “They [Dubai] haven’t produced anything useful for the human condition,” Krane quotes the Director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut Rami Khoury as stating. It is here where Dubai will really live or die, in terms of whether it can create the institutions that can really contribute something new. Can Dubai create knowledge as well as money? As Khoury says again to Krane when asked if Dubai can achieve the heights of Cordoba: “It’s noble to aim that high. But does he have the courage to go all the way? Cordoba needed creative and scientific talent. People were allowed to discuss ideas, do research, engage in debates. It’s not yet clear whether the leadership in Dubai is prepared to open the system to full use of intellectual and cultural talent.” Or will everything that is solid melt into air?

After declaring Mitchell Mid East Peace envoy was Missing In Action he turns up at my door….well Beirut.

Watching Mitchell talk about the peace process is almost as painful when members of the Bush administration used to come to town (I say almost). Of course you don’t feel the vile hatred that a member of the Bush corporation would bring up deep inside of you. Instead I think of the buzz that Mitchell created and to see it all dissolve to the sorry state that the peace process is today. When Mitchell talks the emptiness of what he says it is deeply depressing, we are back to where we started. Although, thinking about it we never actually went anywhere. The same old chasm has appeared between political rhetoric and actions on the ground. Stuck, fed up, frustrated, angered, feeling duped, lied to….  There must be a plan of action? But where the hell is it!!?

As Khoury states in a great editorial:

We still have no idea of how Obama hopes to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in particular, because he has not articulated the US view on core issues like refugees, the ultimate status of the settlements, and Jerusalem.

Obama is allowing a moral vacuum to appear. Of course Israel is a difficult customer if you are a US President. The Israel lobby is not after all pissing around like most Arab regimes. Israel knows who its Daddy is but more importantly knows that it is Mum (i.e. the lobby groups and media) that is the neck that turns Daddy’s head. Khoury meanwhile articulates devistatingly what Arab activism is going on to change this:

The total absence of serious Arab diplomacy or initiatives is one of the profound shortcomings of our contemporary Arab political system, in which regimes are largely immobilized on the international scene because of their near total preoccupation with maintaining power at home.

I have just finished a piece for the think tank the Foreign Policy Centre on electoral reform in Lebanon. The piece focused on why there was such a misunderstanding of by the Western media of the Lebanese political scene and the desire for electoral reform in Lebanon.

Electoral Reform in Lebanon

In June 2009 Lebanon held its first ‘free’ election since 1972. On the conclusion of the elections Western media and political analysts were particularly guilty of premature celebrations and hyperbole, regarding the Western backed March 14 coalition election victory. These past elections were not a battle in which: “President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran”(1) or Western ideals of liberal democracy triumphed against Islamic totalitarianism. This confusion was immediately evident after the winning March 14 coalition soon began to fracture and Lebanon fell into all too familiar political paralysis. The reason for this misplaced euphoria by Western pundits was due to an essential misunderstanding about the battle being fought on the Lebanese political playing field. These elections were largely void of political ideology and were centered on the fight to represent certain sectarian groups, especially so for the Christian population, and the protection of patrimonial networks.

Consociational politics have been deliberately established in Lebanon to ensure the protection of minority groups and ensure power sharing. But the politics of sect are not seen as sufficient by the Lebanese and there is a strong desire among civil society actors to change this consociational politics. One method being pushed, in this battle of “bad governance against good,” is electoral reform. Reformers are trying to ensure that in the creation of a new election law for the 2013 elections two mechanisms are introduced: Proportional Representation (PR) and the creation of a Senate.

TO CARRY ON READING CLICK HERE or copy and paste this link http://fpc.org.uk/articles/457

Is Lebanon coming out of its Cabinet Crisis that has been going on since June? Well just like the cabinet crisis itself no one has a clue what is going on. I just met someone from the Carter Centre who has done the rounds with the various political analysts who said their response was much the same. Each has their different theory but they are all speculating.

No Saudi – Syria gain

I still stick to my view that the essential dilemma is the vital telecommunications network. The interesting aspect of this particular cabinet crisis is that it has become increasingly clear, but far from crystal, that the delay is very much an internal affair. Despite the protestations from all sides as to the usual external interference this particular issue I think has a strong internal failure. There is no benefit for Saudi or Syria to have a cabinet crisis in Lebanon at the moment and both appear not to want confrontation; this given the recent open display of reconciliation and also the announcement from actors, such as France, that Syria is not to blame for the current paralysis. Syria and Saudi have an active interest to push the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons and the tribunal to a side for now, so why the delay?

What’s going on in Lebanon?

The internal dynamic is stressed by the bizarre intervention by Patriarch Sfeir. He stated in a interview, with al-Massira, that: Hezbollah acts in the interests of Iran and that Syria will return if not managed properly. In other words do not give in to any opposition demands regarding the cabinet formation because they are external demands. This statement, knee deep in hypocrisy, has unsurprising ruffled a few feathers on the opposition side that if we are to believe the media had almost reconciled with the government as to the make up the cabinet.

The Patriarch has over the years shown an active desire to involve himself in the political situation but only at vital moments. This was articulated just before the June Elections where the Patriarch made provocative statements against March 8 and Hezbollah in particular; the intervention by Sfeir was seen as vital part of the  March 14 victory.  So why make the provocative statement now? I cannot find a reason, it does not make sense. If you are stating a principal as to how to approach the cabinet crisis why do you wait until three months when signs appear that it may finally get resolved?!

Impact of the cabinet crisis

The most worrying aspect of this cabinet crisis is that it is beginning to lose meaning. No one can understand what is going on. This loss of meaning is creating a deep apathy in Lebanon (not that it was by any means shallow to begin with). The elections really created a buzz within Lebanon’s civil society as to the role of politics in the possibility of change and reform. The cabinet crisis and its laborious continuation has decidedly fizzed out every little bit of buzz there was. The impact for Lebanese politics in the ever-increasing apathy is that already rotting institutions will no doubt continue and the break down of the state will occur further. The result of this of course is that the fat cats get fatter….