Conference Presentations

Dr Lucas Watt

Conference: Future Earth‘s Beyond SDG 11: A focus on urban transformations, 18th of August 2020

Presentation: Fijian infrastructural citizenship: spaces of electricity sharing and informal power grids in an informal settlement

Abstract: Basic infrastructure is largely absent in informal settlements in Oceania. Historically, Oceanic governments have purposefully ignored infrastructural development in these settlements denying its residents essential resources and human rights. Current reforms in Oceanic urban policy seeks to rectify this record by promising to provide more inclusive infrastructures. This drastic change in Oceanic urban policy has in part been motivated by the production of urban profiles and a push for a “New Urban Agenda” by the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) (Keen & Barbara, 2015).

In this presentation, I ethnographically investigate the effect a promised electricity infrastructure had in an informal settlement in Suva, Fiji. Prior to infrastructural development in this settlement, residents created their own community infrastructures that equitably distributed power in spaces of electricity sharing. However, the impending and then ad hoc initiation of infrastructural works destroyed this local infrastructure embedded in local social relations. While residents waited for this promised infrastructure to be completed, they erected informal power grids that mimicked the exclusive and commoditised provision of electricity of the planned infrastructure. The mere promise of infrastructural development pre-emptively changed resident’s inclusive communal behaviour in favour of more exclusive relationships.

This presentation questions the effect of often well-intentioned infrastructural interventions in informal settlements on the SDG 11 goal to produce more socially and culturally inclusive cities. I argue that formal infrastructural interventions must pay closer attention to diverse local social and cultural contexts of vulnerable communities to ensure their outcomes truly provide greater urban inclusion.

Author

  • I am a Post-Doctoral researcher on the ERC-funded TransOcean Project at the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Norway. My portion of the project sets out to analyze maritime mobilities, exchange, and conservation, in the increasingly securitised region of Oceania. I graduated with a PhD from the School of Media and Communications at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. My ethnographic fieldwork in Suva Fiji analyses how rural-urban migrants living in “informal settlements” articulate tradition in urban spaces.