A Topolographical Approach to Infrastructure. Political topography, topology and the port of Dar es Salaam

Jana Hönke & Iván Cuesta-Fernández

Environment and Planning D: Society and Spacem online first. See for an open access copy here.

Economic infrastructure hubs, such as ports, are crucial sites for exploring new political geographies. In such environments, mobilities are enabled and rigidly channelled premised on the stasis of the port-as-checkpoint. Such nodes are part of an ever-growing political geography of zones that requires more attention. This article proposes a ‘topolographical’ approach – a combined heuristic drawing from political topography and topology – to comprehend more fully the transformations in the political geographies of large-scale infrastructures. The cardinal nature of the port of Dar es Salaam makes it a crucial site through which to illustrate the purchase of this framework. The topographical analysis puts forward the port of Dar as ‘archipelago of global territories’, within which heterogeneous actors claim graduated authority. Drawing on topology, the article shows what is folded into the port, constantly shaping not only who governs but, more importantly, how power and authority are exercised. It will be shown how imaginaries of the port - as gateway, seamless space, and modernity ‘from scratch’ - as much as new technological devices work to produce historically and geographically distinct political geographies, and indeed bring new ones into being.

Special Issue "New Political Geographies of Conflict and Resistance"

This new special issue presents the results of a one year research seminar conducted with excellent students of the MA Peace and Conflict Studies run by the Conflict Research Centre, University of Marburg in Germany. It isavailable open access from the IReflect website.

The governance of transnational supply chains and large economic projects put traditional ideas about political space into question, as does the movement of refugees and migrants. Among the crucial issues are who governs where, who should be governing, and how is inclusion in political communities and access to rights decided. Despite a comprehensive discourse of global responsibility for fighting violent crime and human rights abuses, the practice of such responsibility is a different matter. And virtual mobility enabled through the internet and social media shape conflict and resistance across state boundaries in new ways.

The special issue therefore addresses three core questions. First, how can shifting political geographies, for which binary categorisations such as local/global, inside/outside and online/offline have proven unhelpful, be described and conceptualized? And how can critical political geography, Together, the articles contribute to better understand and rethink new political geographies of conflict and resistance. ethnographic and practice-theoretical approaches, contentious politics, and peace and conflict studies offer alternatives? Second, what are the violent contradictions of multifaceted political geographies today, in particular with regards to the coexistence of a state-based international order with too often ineffective, selective and Eurocentric global governance institutions? Third, what are alternative, emancipatory spaces and practices that emerge in everyday practice?

The introduction reviews the literature on political geography in International Relations, conceptualises how to think political spatialities as process and practice, and introduces the methodological building blocks of the special issue. The research papers are based on original theoretical and empirical work. They deal with the production of stateless people in Myanmar and their ‚expulsion‘ into physical and social margins (Valeria Hänsel); the broken promises of an international responsibility to protect in the case of the political economy of human trafficking, torture and extortion of Eritrean refugees on the Sinai, and the alternative structures of support and protection that have emerged in the diaspora (Lucia Heisterkamp); the spatial imaginaries and experiences of refugees along the Balkan route, exploring the potential of participatory counter-mapping (David Scheuing); the ‘in-between-space‘ of on- and offline resistance, investigated through the case of a resistance movement against mineral extraction in Wirikuta, Mexico (Alexandra Engelsdorfer), and the making of autonomous spaces and emancipatory politics in El Alto, Bolivia (Matthias Krams).

Hönke, Jana 2013. Transnational Companies and Security Goverance. Hybrid Practices in a Postcolonial World, Routledge.

This book investigates governance practiced by non-state actors. It analyses how multinational mining companies protect their sites in fragile contexts and what that tells us about political ordering 'beyond' the state.

Based on extensive primary research in the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, Europe and North America, the book compares companies' political role in the 19th and 21st centuries. The book discloses hybrid security practices with highly ambiguous effects around the sites of contemporary companies that have committed to norms of corporate social and security responsibility. Companies invest in local communities, and offer human rights training to security forces alongside coercive techniques of fortress protection, and stability-oriented clientele practice and arrangements of indirect rule. The book traces this hybridity back to contradictory collective meaning systems that cross borders and structure the perceptions and choices of company managers, private security officers, NGO collaborators and others practitioners. The book argues that hybrid security practices are not the result of an encounter between a supposed ‘local’ with the liberal ‘global’. Instead, this hybridity is inherent in the transnational and part and parcel of liberal transnational governance. Therefore, more critical reflection of global governance in practice is required.


Related articles

Hönke, Jana 2014. Business for Peace? The ambiguous role of 'ethical' mining companies, Peacebuilding 2 (2), 172-187.

Multinational companies are increasingly promoted as peacebuilders. Major arguments in support of such a position emphasise both interest-based and norm/socialisation-based factors. This article uses research on large mining MNCs in eastern DRC – those that, arguably, should be most likely to build peace according to the above positions – to engage critically with the business for peace agenda. First it demonstrates the limited peacemaking, as well as active peacebuilding, activities in broader society that companies undertake. Second, it finds that even those companies deemed most likely to build peace continue relying on hybrid (in)security practice. Third, this article calls for more reflexivity concerning the implications of the business for peace research agenda. While the latter might contribute to socialising businesses into contributions to peacebuilding, it also produces companies as legitimate authorities, despite their limitations as peacebuilders. As a result, new conflict and insecurity are produced, especially for/with those displaced from land and artisanal mining pits and left with no alternative livelihood options.

Hönke, Jana 2012. Multinationals and Security Governance in the Community. Participation, discipline and indirect rule, Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 6: 1, 89-105.

This article traces multinational extraction companies' social and security policies in the ‘community belt’ next to their operations. A comparison between mining companies in the DRC in the early twentieth century and in the period post-2000 shows remarkable continuities in corporate community interventions. It demonstrates how contemporary participatory practices have partly replaced techniques of discipline and coercion seen in the colonial past. However, the discourse of ownership and participation runs alongside exclusionary forms of exercising power that have an old history. The liberal claim of self-determination is compromised by the recourse to indirect rule in order to secure stable working conditions.

Hönke, Jana 2010. New Political Topographies. Mining companies and indirect discharge in Southern Katanga (DRC), Politique Africaine N° 120, 105-127.

For analysing current reconfigurations of political order in Africa in a new way, this article suggests a focus on particular socio-economic spaces. It analyses how multinational companies govern security in the copper and cobalt mining region of Southern Katanga (DRC). The article argues that the extended role of companies in managing political order in Southern Katanga can be understood as a new form of indirect discharge by the host and the home states of multinational companies in such a way as to quasi-outsource local governance. It engenders political topographies different from those of corporate security governance in the xixth-xxthcenturies.