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Panel 3. Urban neo-illiberalism and the 21st century infrastructure state


  • Seth Schindler, Senior Lecturer in Urban Development & Transformation, Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom.
  • Nitin Bathla, Lecturer, Institute for Landscape and Urban Studies, ETH Zurich.


Contemporary geopolitical rivalry – referred to by some as the Second Cold War – is producing spaces of transnational encounter beyond the so-called Global North-South divide, as competing projects such as the Chinese BRI and US-led multilateral initiatives such as the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. Whether it be Erdogan’s Turkey, Modi’s India, Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia, or Orban’s Hungary, states are ‘infrastructuring authoritarian power’ by embedding and aligning themselves into globally emergent spheres of orientation defined by the China-US rivalry. Ambitious infrastructure projects are central to the developmental agendas of many states, and they have restructured institutions and centralized power in order to align with these initiatives. However, in many instances the (re-)assertion of state power over markets and society has precipitated an authoritarian shift in national politics, influencing cities around the world. For example, 21st century infrastructure states are suturing borderlands into frontiers, opening previously bypassed regions for enclosure and multilateral investment. Thus, the workings of 21st infrastructure states touch people’s lives in an uneven manner, generate conflict and in many instances produce a crisis of political legitimacy. The premise of this session is that 21st infrastructure states have centralized power, undermined dissent, persecuted minorities, and bypassed democratic institutions. We invite empirical and theoretical contributions that analyze this emergent ‘neo-illiberalism’ and explore how the intersection between the emergence of the 21st century infrastructure state and authoritarianism manifest in cities and/or influence urbanization. Specifically, we are interested in papers that theorize the dynamic nature of state-citizen relations in this conjuncture and comparative perspectives on the urban geographies of uneven development.

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