Convened by: Niranjana Ramesh (University of Cambridge)
The Chemistry of Urban Socio-Materiality
The organicist conceptualisation of cities, particularly urban infrastructural networks, through metabolic flows has been influential in enabling engagement with socio-natural relationships and the hybrid urban forms they produce in their circulation of resources. This has, however, posed a problem for research on the global south, or for that matter ‘smart’ cities anywhere, with infrastructures found to be ‘fragmented’, emergent or incomplete in their metabolic circulations. This stream draws attention to the increasing use of discrete technological installations like desalination plants or air quality monitoring kits in urban environments as points of socio-material interactions at the molecular level. How can attending to material exchanges at the molecular level – the chemistry of matter rather than its systemic metabolisation – help in grappling with urban change and indeed the fragments of infrastructure that make up cities? This stream proposes an STS-driven interruption in the study of cities, to rethink urban socio-natural relationships as a chemical geography – of discrete interactions between matter, often technologically mediated, that together constitute its lived infrastructure. It invites papers that critically consider a wide range of material exchanges, from the very biophysical make up of cities to household appliances, that can offer insight into the negotiated and contingent processes that shape urban life. While philosophers of science have pointed to the value in engaging with chemical processes and practice towards understanding the politics of a technological society (Barry 2015, Stengers 2010), this stream invites empirical accounts of participating in these debates.