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Speculations on infrastructure: from colonial public works to a postcolonial global asset class on the Indian Railways 1840-2017

Bear, Laura (2020) Speculations on infrastructure: from colonial public works to a postcolonial global asset class on the Indian Railways 1840-2017. Journal of the Korean Statistical Society, 49 (1). 45 - 70. ISSN 1226-3192

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Identification Number: 10.1080/03085147.2020.1702416


This paper issues a challenge to examine the current emergence of infrastructure as a global asset class against a longer-term colonial history of speculation. Taking the case of the Indian railways, it shows that their current financialization and transformation into a logistical network emerges from colonial techniques of calculations of risky frontiers, state guarantees and debt accounting. Historical forms built from racial and national inequalities have been incorporated into a new era of the financialization of public works led globally by the World Bank. This new moment erases the distinctive political histories of public works, while also capitalizing on these. Overall this leads to two theoretical claims: firstly, that we should only use the term ‘infrastructure’ self-consciously as a mode of critique of such contemporary moves. Secondly, that our theories derived from Marx, Foucault and Callon place too much emphasis on ‘economization’ and that we need to replace this with attention to speculation. Speculation is affective, intellectual and physical labour that aims to direct capital towards various ends. It involves the ethical imagination of social differences and places distinctions of race, nation and gender at the core of calculative regimes. This labour is governed by key nodal contracts between the market and the state and associated accounting and legal regimes or treaties for accumulation.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2020 11:45
Last Modified: 06 Aug 2020 11:15

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