[P4920] Connection, Contagion, and Calamity: Social Uses and Effects of Infrastructural Networks in the Middle East

Created by Alex Schweig
Saturday, 11/18/17 5:30pm


Over the last two centuries, the perceived path to progress has been laid out along large infrastructural networks of telegraph lines, railroads, paved roads for motor vehicles, and electric grids. While these projects were long considered value-neutral transmitters of social and economic development by states and other boosters of modernization, more recent reappraisals emphasize the complex social, economic, political and cultural effects upon the broader societies in which they are situated. They change relationships among a variety of actors involved and users along their paths, as well as between states and their subjects. As they reflect, and carry the same baggage as, their societal contexts, they can, indeed, improve the transmission of information and new ideas, but they also can have negative consequences such as facilitating the spread of disease or widening existing social inequalities.
The papers in this panel position themselves within current trends in the study of science and technology in society in their examinations of infrastructure in various Middle Eastern societies. They analyze a range of instances of negotiation and struggle in the development and distribution of infrastructure. The first paper examines the cholera outbreak of 1893 that was centered on the Western Anatolian town of Eski?ehir and spread along the newly built Anatolian Railroad. In addition to quarantines and other disruptive measures, a general sense of panic spread about the railroad and railroad workers even in unaffected regions, such as Ankara. This railroad, an important centerpiece of Ottoman modernization and economic development could also be converted into a conduit of illness, fear, and death. The next paper examines the laying of privately owned submarine telegraph cables in Ottoman waterways. These projects led to a complex entanglement between the Ottoman state and foreign private capital in a manner that diverged from the state’s centralized control of its land-based network. The third paper examines train accidents in early Pahlavi Iran and the perception of danger due to speed. This perception, in turn, provides insight into the intersection of technological infrastructure with the infrastructure of the emerging Iranian professional hierarchy- both of the railroad employees and the psychiatrists who evaluated the psychological impact of this “dangerous” modernity. The final paper examines the politicization of the electricity grid in Israel. Positing a negotiation between the state and the Bedouins, it demonstrates the ways in which discriminatory grid distribution practices turn solar panels into resistance mechanisms.


Hist; Pol Science



Mikiya Koyagi

(New York University)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Alex Schweig

(University of Arizona)
Panel Participating Role(s): Organizer; Presenter;

Esra Bakkalbasioglu

(University of Washington)
Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;

Gokce Gunel

(University of Arizona)
Panel Participating Role(s): Discussant; Panel Participating Role(s): Presenter;