Image from Engineering Comes Home, taken by Kat Austen.
The scale of the climate crisis requires radical rethinking of urban life. As an anthropologist working on the relationship between the built environment and resource consumption, my approach is to focus on everyday practices of care and alternative forms of exchange. I draw on the recent turn to material politics to look in particular how infrastructural connections enable alternative interpretations, forms of value and action. The drive to retrofit the city with less resource intense living often includes a rescaling of infrastructure as policy makers hope to better align demand with locally available resources. This delineates groups of people who share key parts of the system, such as a secondary electricity substation or a drainage network. These urban neighbours may not know one another or hold values in common and yet their individual actions can be aggregated to provide system-level services. Thinking of these groups as residents who share a material connection that may or may not align with how they identify with location or interest-based groups provides a useful lens for both critique and intervention. In this talk, I discus a number of interdisciplinary projects that have worked with these ‘infrastructural communities’ to understand the possibilities for action on resource consumption through the built environment.
Charlotte Johnson is a Senior Research Associate in Urban resources & communities, Bartlett School for Environment, Energy & Resources (UCL). She is an anthropologist specialising in urban sustainability, with a focus on decentralised infrastructure and how it can produce transformative social action. She is currently working with community energy groups trialling Peer-2-Peer electricity markets, and leads community co-design of water infrastructure on the NERC funded Community Water Management for a Liveable London (CAMELLIA) project.