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23 Nov 2020

Online via Zoom

Fachbereich Urban Studies

Kolloquium / Seminar

Madlen Kobi: Thinking through Buildings – Urban Energy Infrastructure and Biopolitics in Postsocialist China

Critical Urbanism: Current Debates

Madlen Kobi: Thinking through Buildings

Madlen Kobi (Università della Svizzera Italiana, Lugano)

The fifth lecture for the CRITICAL URBANISMS: CURRENT DEBATES Lecture Series will be given by Madlen Kobi, entitled "Thinking through Buildings: Urban Energy Infrastructure and Biopolitics in Postsocialist China".

Biopolitics in contemporary Chinese cities are often discussed with regards to either the increasing surveillance of residents or the state’s control of healthy bodies during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Thinking biopolitics from another angle, this lecture addresses the ways in which buildings and urban energy infrastructure intervene in citizen-state relationships. In particular, I will focus on the thermal implications of the Huai River Heating Policy from the 1950s which divided China into a heated north, where district or central heating infrastructure is installed in urban buildings; and a non-heated south where the thermal control of indoor spaces in winter is left to residents’ own responsibility. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, semi-structured interviews and building analysis, this lecture explores architecture and biopolitics in two cities: Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China and Chongqing in the southwest of the country. The provision of warm bodies through power stations, subsidized heating funds, and district heating as part of urban housing infrastructures contributes to the territorial connection of northern borderlands to the state. In the south, the lack of such infrastructure leads to more neoliberal solutions and residents’ active use of objects and practices for staying warm depending on their economic means, age, native place, and cultural expectations of comfort. Relying on Dominic Boyer, I will outline how “biopower”, the management of life and population through direct impact on the body, and “energopower”, the provision of electricity or other forms of energy infrastructure creates differing socio-technical responses in this vast country. Heating infrastructure beyond being a material installation for the provision of thermal comfort molds encounters between citizens and the state.

This course exposes students to schools of thought and concrete interventions that redefine understandings of urban lifeworlds in the twenty-first century. The lecture series will explore the dynamics that shape cities and how cities in turn impact the course of locally situated and global phenomena. Guest lecturers hail from a range of disciplines and fields in the social sciences including urban and regional planning, geography, political theory, art and activism, and architectural research.

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