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Beirut. The metropolis of darkness and the politics of urban electricity grid

Abstract : Despite massive investments in infrastructure reconstruction, Beirut has never fully recovered 24/7 provision of electricity after the civil war (1975-90). Since 2006, the consequences of Israeli bombings and of infrastructure decaying in a context of political bickering preventing new investments plans have worsened the situation. On average, electricity is currently supplied only half of the day. Building on Timothy Mitchell's project to follow the tracks of energy in order to unravel the precarious agencies of power that allow its flows to circulate, I try to map the disruptions and reconfigurations of energy circuits and to show that it both reflect existing configurations of power in the city and create new ones. (Mitchell 2011) At a first glance, uneven access to electricity might well be understood as the way to reproduce social and political domination between central Beirut and its suburbs and between the wealthiest and the middle and lower class, for which the cost of making without public network is very heavy. But seen from Mitchell's perspective, the economic arrangements and the technological devices needed to run the system and for the electricity being generated and processed contain in themselves their fragilities that allow such domination to be constantly challenged by the clients-users-citizens or newcomers like informal vendors of alternative electricity devices (the famous generators). Thus, one might well read the rising protests against the current state of blackness in Beirut as new agencies of power that seek to undermine and derail the symbolical hierarchies of power (here I will analyse cartoons and the Minister of Energy bashing on the social networks), despite the constant struggle by the political class to reenact them through sectarian cleavages. Hooking and meter-pirating, as well as non-payment, display the power of the network's end-users. The development of private illegal-but-tolerated generators involves the building of new local configuration of power.
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Contributor : Éric Verdeil Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Friday, June 3, 2016 - 2:19:23 PM
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Éric Verdeil. Beirut. The metropolis of darkness and the politics of urban electricity grid. Andrès Luque Ayala; Jonathan Silver. Energy, Power and Protest on the Urban Grid. Geographies of the Electric City, Routledge, pp.155-175, 2016. ⟨halshs-00858126⟩



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