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Success? On the Social Infrastructure of Global Cities

Date and Time: 
Wednesday, January 8, 2020. 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Baker Room
Workshop: 
Worlds of Work and the Work of Networks
Meeting Description: 

As urban centers across the world vie for the label of “global” or “world-class” city, it is clear that such labels are not only descriptors of empirical reality, but function as aspirational categories. Global cities are constituted not only through material projects of urban development, but also through discursive practices of casting the city and its elite inhabitants as “successful” vis-a-vis other world cities, and other urban residents. Drawing on ethnographic encounters in the luxury real estate industry of Colombo, Sri Lanka, this discussion introduces the figure of a highly successful broker as a key informant. Theorizing his relationships and self-presentation as a kind of labor that works to construct an aspirational ideal of Colombo, this ethnography highlights that aspiring global cities rely on social infrastructures as much as they do on material ones. In doing so, it also reveals the importance of the concepts of phatic labor and people-as-infrastructure for middle class and elite spheres of life.

Alessandra Radicati is a postdoctoral fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research investigates the effects of aspirational urban development programs on people’s everyday lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Contemporary South Asia and Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography.

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