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New publications part II: Materializing Europe

December 3, 2010

 I am pleased to announce the publication of the volume edited by me and Andreas Fickers of Maastricht University: Materializing Europe: Transnational Infrastructures and the Project of Europe.  This book is the product of the “Transnational Infrastructures and the Rise of Contemporary Europe” (TIE) project at the Technical University of Eindhoven (www.tie-project.nl), on which I was a post-doc 2004-8, and more specifically two workshops held in 2006 and 2007, respectively.  We launched the book formally at NIAS on 16 November.

Everybody knows that material infrastructures are the foundation of European unification.  The removal of border controls on roads was the big sign of the Maastricht treaty, the European Coal and Steel Community was ushered in with a train, bedecked with flags of six nations rolling over borders.  Even before that, the US Marshall Plan sponsored a rolling “Europe Train” exhibition to try to sell both the plan and European integration to Western countries.  All of these gestures were in part convincing because the material structures for them – the roads and railways across the border – had already been in place for decades.  The notion that creating faster and smoother material connections will better unify the continent and promote unprecedented economic growth is still a driving (if contested) argument in today’s Europe.  Just ask the folks supposedly at the “new heart of Europe” in Stuttgart.

But for all of this effective symbolism, what role do infrastructures actually play in unifying Europe?  In this book, we take a long term perspective on this question, looking at the complex role that infrastructures have played in uniting Europe.  We argue in the introduction that you can only understand the complicated ways in which infrastructures mediate Europe by understanding them not only as material structures, but as complex material, institutional and discursive bundles.  Sometimes what at the material level seems complete disarray can still be made to seem like a smooth network on a discursive level.  On the other hand, institutions like the EU can mobilise discursive constructions such as ‘the imbalance of territory’ or ‘a bottleneck in the network’ to demand greater power and authority for very material interventions.  We argue that the best way to see these three dimensions in systems like infrastructures – which are meant to be ignored most of the time – are best examined during infrastuctural events: that is moments of linking  or breakdown when they are made to perform as a whole structure.

The chapters in this book show how the processes that many assume only started after the Second World War are actually part of an ongoing set of connections – and disconnections – that can be traced back to the transport and communication revolutions of the mid-nineteenth century.  Chapters by Dirk van Laak and Eda Kranakis show, among other things, how transnational infrastructures have just as often been about connecting to (and extracting from) colonies as they have been about unifying Europe.  Other chapters, such as those by Joahn Schot, and Frank Schipper, Vincent Lagendijk and Irene Anastasiadou,  point to a range of international institutions and people who have created such international connections.  Taken as a whole, the book opens up new ways of understanding the way those two compelling, yet protean entities ‘Europe’ and ‘networks’ have shaped each other.

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