The Roads Project

A Journey through ‘Infra-Space’: The Production of Infrastructure

A Journey through ‘Infra-Space’: The Production of Infrastructure

Dr Luke Heslop & Dr Laura Jeffery : 


This paper examines infrastructure and the state by exploring the world of infrastructure investment, referred to by the industry as the ‘Infra-space’. Starting with financial institutions and multilateral development agencies that steer global infrastructure money, it will trace the financial, technical, bureaucratic and diplomatic journey of an infrastructure project. Examining the economic, social, and political architecture of infrastructure investment and development pulls into focus the relationship between states, state owned enterprises, and multilateral financial institutions. Drawing on ethnographic research from Colombo, London, Malé, and Singapore with public planners, capital financiers, development banks, consultants and heads of government, the paper examines the diplomacy afforded through – and required within – international infrastructure development.  Focussing specifically on the Maldives, the paper engages with two different regimes of the state. The first, South Asia’s longest dictatorship: a regime that did not make itself amenable to foreign investment, kept infrastructure development small in scale and cantered around the capital, Malé. The Second regime, the Maldives’ first democratically elected government: far less risk averse when it came to foreign investment, favoured an agenda of decentralisation, and implemented larger more ambitious infrastructure development projects. The paper examines the social life of infrastructure. But rather than focus on the social and cultural consequences of infrastructural change, or, how the political promise and aspiration of infrastructure measures up to its everyday use, this article asks, what are social economic, and political relations that produce infrastructure? Such an examination requires a journey beyond the state and through Infra-space


This paper will be presented by Dr Heslop at the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth, annual meeting in Adelaide 11-15th December 2017. .

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