Brett Neilson's Blog

Creaky Infrastructure

Brett Neilson November 14, 2012

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter

After conducting research in Shanghai and Kolkata it seems almost capricious to complain about Sydney traffic. Yet in this wealthy city of backyards and bays, waiting in road traffic bottlenecks has become a constitutive part of urban experience. The problem is not only that Sydney, like the cities of the American west, grew up around the internal combustion engine. Nor is it simply that population growth has exceeded the capacity of public and private agencies to provide transport infrastructure. Rather, the reluctance to invest in such infrastructure is a symptom of wider economic and social tendencies that have unfolded against the background of a general depoliticization of life. Rising debt, longer working hours, growing precarity and stress have all contributed to the rampant individualism and aggression that displays itself at Sydney’s clogged intersections and gridlocked motorways. Little wonder then that logistics and traffic infrastructure have become major issues in this far-from-laid-back metropolis.

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Transition, an Empty Proposition?

Brett Neilson June 14, 2012

Giorgio Grappi

Brett Neilson and Sandro Mezzadra


Resistance to land grabs and accelerated urban expansion has been a hallmark of recent peasant struggles in West Bengal. One thinks of the conflicts that unfolded at Singur and Nandigram in 2006-2007 when peasant movements successfully blocked the West Bengal government’s acquisition of village and agricultural lands for the ‘public purpose’ of establishing an automobile factory in the first instance and a Special Economic Zone in the second. These struggles resounded loudly in Indian and West Bengali public life, igniting debates about primitive accumulation among Kolkata’s intellectual class and eventually contributing to the fall of the state’s longstanding Left Front government in May 2011. Elsewhere on Kolkata’s fringes, resistance to land acquisition has not been so successful. The huge area of land known as Rajarhat or New Town which sits to the city’s northeast is a barren monument to stalled peasant movements. Dotted by empty housing estates, shopping malls, special IT zones, ‘service villages’ inhabited by populations left without livelihoods, and vast stretches of arid land, Rajarhat is a site that has much to teach us about mobile styles of governing, transmutations of capital and labor, and the violent production of space that accompanies informational strategies of accumulation.

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The Logistical City

Brett Neilson July 30, 2011

Ned Rossiter

Brett Neilson and Ned Rossiter


Boarding Gate C10, Suvarnabhumi Airport: midnight approaches at the end of the concourse, beyond the malls and gates collecting passengers for Singapore and Hong Kong. A long line of young Indian men wait to weigh their hand luggage before boarding the Kolkata flight. These are kuruvis, low-level ‘hand-carriers’ employed by shadowy bosses to transport consumer goods like electronics and garments between Thailand and India. Not surprisingly their pre-weighed luggage comes in exactly at the maximum weight allowance. But it is also carefully apportioned according to value, each carrier transporting just enough to stay under the Rs 5 Lakh limit that attracts prosecution for smuggling electronic goods into India. When the laden flight docks in Kolkata, the baggage hall is resplendent with commodities: plasma televisions, hi-fi systems, musical keyboards, not to mention the iPods, mobile phones, digital cameras and computer circuit boards stowed in makeshift bundles of shabby cloth. This is a full-scale logistical operation – a single link in the many networks of formal and informal labour that distribute consumer goods manufactured in China to markets around the globe.

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From Cultural Flows to Logistical Circuits

Brett Neilson October 01, 2010


From Flows of Culture to the Circuits of Logistics: Borders, Regions, Labour in Transit

Brett Neilson, Ned Rossiter and Soenke Zehle


When jurisdiction can no longer be aligned with territory and governance does not necessarily assume liberalism, there is a need to rethink the relations between labour, mobility and space. Bringing together researchers from different parts of the world to discuss and pursue various paths of investigation and collaboration, the Shanghai Transit Labour Research Platform moved between online and offline worlds. Sometimes sequestered in seminar spaces and at other times negotiating the city and the regulatory environment, the participants drifted toward a collective enunciation. We could say this was about the production of new kinds of labouring subjectivities that build connections between domains which are at once becoming more irreconcilable and more indistinct: life and work, public and private, political and economic, natural and cultural.

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