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Urban and regional horizons

Turbulent presents, precarious futures: urbanization and the deployment of global infrastructure

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Pages 912-923
Received 31 Jan 2018
Published online: 08 Feb 2019


Understandings of global infrastructure within and between cities have primarily focused on two forms: the node and the corridor. Scholarship detailing the extensive growth of these infrastructures focus on standardization to account for the underlying networks configuring urbanization. However, standardization fails to account for the dynamic, contested and geographically uneven process of infrastructure deployment. Four generative concepts focus analysis on the stages of deployment: speculation, delineating, alignment and pivoting. After discussing China's Belt and Road Initiative as the underlying geoeconomic force driving the transformation of these systems, we present an illustrative case of the Central Corridor linking Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Kampala (Uganda) as emblematic of urbanization through global infrastructure. Concluding, we argue for a research agenda that places global infrastructure at the centre of how we understand urban transformation amid contemporary political–economic turbulence, one that emphasizes the contingent ways deployment proceeds.



The authors first thank John Harrison for his editorial support and insight. The reviewers offered an extremely helpful critique that was foundational for crafting these theorizations into a coherent paper. Michael Hodson and Aidan While gave feedback on an early draft. Helen Fairs, Regan Koch, Renee Tapp and Kevin Ward supported fieldwork efforts. This paper builds off a conversation held at a roundtable discussion, ‘Precarious Infrastructures: Territorial Transformation, Geopolitics, and Globalization’, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, 4 April 2017, where Theresa Enright, Jo Guldi, Richard Hanley and Simon Marvin spoke. This event was supported by Dean Robyn Hannigan of the School for the Environment, University of Massachusetts, Boston.


No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Additional information


The research was supported by a Leverhulme Prize and a University of Massachusetts, Boston, Joseph P. Healey Research Grant.

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