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Department of Anthropology


Department of Global Studies


In southern Ukraine, two hydraulic infrastructures continue to exist despite environmentalist campaigns that have exposed them as fragile, broken or unprofitable. The Danube-Dnister Irrigation Project (DDIS), a Soviet mega-project that diverted water from the Danube and turned the Sasyk estuary into a reservoir, receives state funding despite a 1994 ban on its use for irrigation. The Bystre Shipping Canal, built in 2004 despite domestic and international opposition, is losing money but continues to operate. These cases exemplify the material politics of infrastructuring in which infrastructure is understood as an antagonistic process of assembling networks of humans and nonhumans rather than a fixed facility. This approach helps explain how the confluence of unruly coastal matters and the politics of expertise have facilitated these shipping and irrigation infrastructures’ re-embedding in bureaucratic networks. These cases show that obduracy and fragility, as well as visibility and invisibility––conditions that figure prominently in infrastructure studies––should be considered in terms of oscillation rather than as ontologically distinct or static conditions. This analysis also highlights the limits of the modernist search for scientific certainty in resolving environmental conflicts in Ukraine, and some possibilities to experiment politically with new decision-making procedures. This account can thus serve as a “story that intervenes” by pointing beyond reform impulses that re-enact modernist narratives of progress within a strict nature-society divide.


This article was originally published in Science as Culture, 25:1, 2016, 69-95, DOI: 10.1080/09505431.2015.1081503