People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg

Simone, AbdouMaliq. 2004. People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture, 16(3), pp. 407-429. ISSN 08992363 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The inner city of Johannesburg is about as far away as one can get from the
popular image of the African village. Though one of Africa’s most urbanized
settings, it is also seen as a place of ruins—of ruined urbanization, the ruining of
Africa by urbanization. But in these ruins, something else besides decay might be
happening. This essay explores the possibility that these ruins not only mask but
also constitute a highly urbanized social infrastructure. This infrastructure is
capable of facilitating the intersection of socialities so that expanded spaces of
economic and cultural operation become available to residents of limited means.
This essay is framed around the notion of people as infrastructure, which
emphasizes economic collaboration among residents seemingly marginalized from
and immiserated by urban life. Infrastructure is commonly understood in physical
terms, as reticulated systems of highways, pipes, wires, or cables. These modes of
provisioning and articulation are viewed as making the city productive, reproducing
it, and positioning its residents, territories, and resources in specific
ensembles where the energies of individuals can be most efficiently deployed and
accounted for.

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1 September 2004Published

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Date Deposited:

12 Mar 2009 15:42

Last Modified:

13 Apr 2021 20:23

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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