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Workshop: Infrastructures of Wellbeing

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In this workshop, we will examine the varied infrastructures that shape the relative wellbeing of social groups, especially those marginalized through poverty, migrant status, and colonial exclusions. These groups are characterised by dwelling in places where processes to ensure wellbeing are inadequate, unavailable, or unattainable. Yet despite this, social networks and practices enact wellbeing in the interstices available to them. Convened by the Infrastructural Geographies research group, the workshop aims to explore how understandings and practices of wellbeing are organised, enacted and secured in diverse settings, from refugee camps to Indigenous territories.

Introduction – Sarah Radcliffe and Ash Amin

Melissa Fielding Individual resilience in place of social infrastructure: Positive wellbeing as a condition for social housing in the UK

This paper explores the ways in which ‘wellbeing’ is utilised by UK local governance to transfer state responsibility onto the individual in the climate of austerity. To access the social housing register, residents living in temporary supported housing are required to meet a series of conditions. These conditions range from showing how the practical needs of a tenancy will be met (i.e., paying rent on time) to presenting desirable characteristics based around ideas of self-sufficiency and resilience. Drawing from interviews with local housing officers, housing managers and social housing tenants across the East Midlands, this paper highlights the ways in which positive wellbeing is encouraged and instrumentalised by strategic actors in the social housing system. It shows how this process is implemented within the climate of reduced social infrastructure as a cost-saving exercise, rewarding the prospective tenant who displays a sense of positive wellbeing with access to the social housing register.

Ash Amin Dwelling habitats and mental health: the poor in Delhi

This talk looks at how mental states in a slum and among the homeless in Delhi are formed in the intersections of political economy, dwelling practices, and habitat affordances. Its aim is to understand how subjectivity is shaped by intermediaries and infrastructures of place, which in their affordances mediate the balances between abjection and resilience. The talk is based on ongoing ethnographic work in Delhi, and will draw on individual narratives to explore the connections of biography, circumstances and place.

Sarah Radcliffe Hacienda Futures and socio-epistemic wellbeing

Ecuador’s 2008 constitution centred the Indigenous concept of Buen Vivir (living well) and held out a promissory agenda of rights, welfare and an end to structural discriminations for the multiracial country. Since 2008 however, buen vivir has become a technopolitics that excises Indigenous practices, knowledges and experiences. Notwithstanding – and often alongside – buen vivir technopolitics, diverse actors in a northern Andean municipality work to build intercultural processes that retrofit state infrastructures and decentralized governance into locally-meaningful outcomes and agendas of wellbeing. Drawing on interviews and participant observation, the paper discusses the significance and implications of subordinating wellbeing policy goals to local configurations of praxis and knowledge.

Maria Hagan Rhythms of social life at the post-camp border

Several contemporary border zones are governed through the active infliction of an inhospitable environment on those who seek to clandestinely pass through them. Namely, the makeshift encampments of displaced people are systematically destroyed by police forces, compromising their wellbeing and the very possibility of their survival at the border. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork carried out with people living furtively in the northern French and northern Moroccan coastal borderlands, this talk will focus on the modes of social living that emerge in these challenging conditions. It will consider how people work to preserve their wellbeing, establishing social thresholds through rhythm, common spatial and imaginative practice. Proposing an interpretation of these social networks as both lifelines and strategic resources, the talk will also touch upon the fragility of social ties in a context of everyday competition and pressure to cross the border.

Discussion on crosscutting themes

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This talk is part of the Infrastructural Geographies - Department of Geography series.

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