The National New Area as an infrastructure space
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Professor Timothy OAKES University of Colorado, Boulder, US
Tim Oakes is Professor of Geography and Director of the Center for Asian Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is project director of China Made, a research collaborative exploring the infrastructural dimensions of China’s export development model.
This paper seeks to apply an infrastructural analytic to China’s National New Area (国家级新区) experimental urban development zones. It proposes that we consider New Areas as ‘infrastructure spaces’ in which the unit of analysis is the infrastructure itself, rather than the bounded territorial space within which infrastructure is built. While such an approach draws on the ideas of Keller Easterling (2014) in suggesting that a kind of ‘infrastructural governance’ is at work in these spaces, it ultimately departs from Easterling’s model in order to understand Chinese infrastructure space as an form of statecraft, rather than ‘extrastatecraft’ as Easterling would have it. China’s experimental zones and new areas have been productively analyzed as examples of state-rescaling in which China’s leaders attempt to develop new scales of governance in order to address policy issues such as rural-urban inequality, excessive urban construction, inefficient public goods provision, or to promote innovative development and environmental protection initiatives. The infrastructural analytic proposed here builds on and extends this approach to the New Area as a technology of state-rescaling by shifting the focus from administrative territories to infrastructure projects. These projects create new scales of social formation, and new temporalities of lived experience, existing side-by-side with older scales and temporalities. China’s infrastructure spaces, then, are not merely experiments in re-territorialized governance but are also spaces where multiple scales – and multiple temporalities – of social formation are simultaneously at play. As such, they are techno-political spaces replete with contradiction and contestation.
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