Roads to Peace? Infrastructures, Peace and Conflict

Roads to Peace? Infrastructures, Peace and Conflict

Jan Hansen (University of Southern California) and Christoph Laucht (Swansea University)
Vom - Bis
14.06.2022 - 15.06.2022
Jan Hansen, Max Kade Institute, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

The 2022 Annual Conference of the German Association for Historical Peace and Conflict Research explores the relationship between infrastructures, peace, and conflict.

Roads to Peace? Infrastructures, Peace and Conflict

Infrastructures are vital to the functioning of human civilization. As socio-technical systems, they facilitate communication and the movement of people and goods. Recently, historical scholarship has started to analyze how infrastructures have been linked to questions of power and have both integrated and disintegrated social, political and environmental orders. On the one hand, infrastructure connectivity can mitigate conflicts. During the 1960s and 1970s, several African governments promoted plans for a Trans-African Highway to foster unity, peace, and prosperity across the African continent, for example. Domestically, the construction of underground sewage systems in urban centers such as Mumbai, Johannesburg, or London during the nineteenth century – as part of a broader drive towards improving hygiene and public health – or the postwar reconstruction of war-torn cities like Coventry or Nagasaki as „peace cities“ illustrate that infrastructures can be understood as materially tangible parameters of (social) peace politics.

On the other hand, infrastructures can also be linked to political, social, economic, and environmental conflict and violence, as certain user groups (e.g. non-white and poor people) have often had unequal access to supply systems, leading to social exclusion and spatial fragmentation. Asymmetric access to infrastructure often was at the root of violence in urban, suburban, and rural contexts. However, it also had an international dimension. In the Middle East, disputes over water resources that involved infrastructures have repeatedly led to violent conflict. Similar conflicts have erupted around infrastructures and the use of natural resources and raw materials. Here, oil and the increasing significance of the Gulf region are a case in point, as the 1956 Suez Crisis impressively demonstrated. At the same time, borders, frontiers, and walls became physical realities of both the use of violence and peacekeeping (e.g. Berlin, Belfast, or Jerusalem), illustrating the ambiguous meanings and symbolism of infrastructures. There is much evidence that such processes unfolded globally, with regional variances in the global South and North.

This workshop thus sets out to explore the relationship between infrastructures, peace, and conflict. In this, it charts new historiographical terrain and brings together two fields of research that have not yet been systematically connected: historical peace and conflict studies and infrastructure studies. Although there is a rich literature on infrastructure and conflict, historical peace and conflict studies has hardly tackled the significance of (material) infrastructures and their environments for the making and preservation of peace (e.g., the conversion of war bunkers to sites of cultural production in the post-war period, or the dual use of nuclear energy infrastructures in war and peace) so far. A similar historiographical neglect is evident in infrastructure studies which has extensively focused on infrastructures for war (e.g. fortification infrastructures, transportation routes, communication networks). Through its combined approach and with its focus on the material fabric and the spatial as well as environmental dimensions of peace and conflict, the workshop seeks to develop a deeper and more systematic understanding of the complex relationship between infrastructures, peace and conflict. This includes the opportunities and limits of such a combined approach.

We invite historians, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, geographers, and scholars from other interested disciplines to reflect on peace, conflict, and infrastructure (understood as socio-technical systems for the provision of mobility, communication, power, health, and hygiene) from a historical perspective (modern and premodern, micro and macro, local and global). Questions that the workshop will explore include, but are not limited to:

- To what extent did infrastructures have a system-stabilizing effect and to what extent did they become the starting point or the object of conflict and violence? How did war, violence, and conflict affect the construction, maintenance, and dismantling of infrastructure?
- Which infrastructures (and associated resources like water, minerals, oil, or metals) were prone to generate conflict? How did such conflicts over the use of infrastructures in relation to natural resources manifest themselves?
- What role did infrastructures play in overcoming conflict (e.g. postwar reconstruction of destroyed urban centers like Coventry)? Were there limits to their roles in promoting peace?
- How were maintenance and decay of infrastructures related to peace and conflict? Can we identify a link between the maintenance of infrastructures and the management of conflict, or the decay of infrastructures and the transformation of postwar orders?
- What specific notions of (societal) peace went hand in hand with infrastructures?
- How does a focus on infrastructures and the environment help us to broaden our concept of peace and violence (peace with nature, environmental peacekeeping, Nixon’s “slow violence”)?
- To what extent did the relationship between peace/conflict and infrastructures depend on space? How did space impact the making, remaking, and unmaking of peace? Were there differences between the global North and the global South?
- Did infrastructures carry ambivalent or conflicting meanings regarding peacekeeping and the use of violence (e.g. borders and walls)? Did their symbolic power undergo changes over time? Were there differences in meaning depending on the wider political context?
- Were certain peace narratives associated with specific infrastructures (e.g. Peace Train in Northern Ireland)?
- What motivated planning for particular peace infrastructures? Were they the result of top-down or bottom-up decision-making processes? How did these plans either materialize or fail?

This workshop will be held as the 2022 Annual Conference of the German Association for Historical Peace and Conflict Research (Arbeitskreis Historische Friedens- und Konfliktforschung) and will be co-hosted with the Conflict, Reconstruction and Memory Research Group (CRAM) at Swansea University, United Kingdom.

Given the uncertainty over international travel, the workshop will be held online. Please send a 250-word abstract and a short bio (1 page) by January 14, 2022 to:

Dr Jan Hansen
Max Kade Institute
University of Southern California
2714 S Hoover Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007
United States


Dr Christoph Laucht
Department of History, Classics and Heritage
Swansea University
Singleton Campus
Swansea, SA2 8PP
United Kingdom
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