infrastructure and urban movements

Thomas G. Kirsch 2005. ‘Illegal Connections’. Conflicts over Electricity in Soweto, South Africa. Soziale Welt 16 (Special Issue): 193-208. 

“[Current] conflicts over electricity in Soweto are informed by legacies of the apartheid era, campaigns of infrastructural and technological modernization in the fabric of globalization, and neo-liberal notions of privatization and cost-effectiveness. These conflicts revolve around issues of human rights and social welfare, ultimately finding expression in down-to-earth struggles between ‘professional’ and ‘guerilla’ electricians. Taking Gabriel Dupuy’s (1991) emphasis on the networked character of modern urbanism as a starting point, and focusing on discourses and practices relating to ‘illegal connections’, the controversies over electricity provision in Soweto therefore represent an engaging example showing how urban realities are simultaneously shaped by local, national and global forces. The actors involved in this dispute share the conviction that being connected to electricity is important because of its functional and symbolic values. Where they differ is in how they define the conditions for and modalities of ‘being connected’ legitimately. Since the issue of connectivity not only pertains to connections of a physical kind but also to questions of social, political, economic and cultural reticulation, the evolving conflicts over the networked materiality of urban life enfold contro-versies about social relationships in an increasingly interconnected world. And, as will be demonstrated [in this chapter], they are also giving rise to urban movements and alternative socio-technical networks which informally – and from the official point of view illegally – link up to existing electricity networks.”