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Blurring the shoreline: De- and re-infrastructuring and the changing colors of European flood policy

Journal article
Authors Jesper Petersson
Published in Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space
ISSN 2514-8486
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Sociology and Work Science
Language en
Keywords European Union, Floods Directive, green infrastructure, grey infrastructure, infrastructuring, make space for water
Subject categories Infrastructure Engineering, Ocean and River Engineering, Environmental engineering, Water Treatment, Social and Economic Geography, Human Geography, Social Sciences Interdisciplinary, Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified, Technology and social change, Research on Europe, Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology), Climate Research, Physical Geography, Water in nature and society, Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources, History of Technology, Theory of science


This paper provides a genealogy of the emergence of a common EU flood policy, including the scope and direction of this policy. Noticing how EU policy proposes green infrastructure (associated with using nature as a buffer zone in managing floods) as an alternative to grey infrastructure (implying fixed installations of concrete and cement), this paper adopts the theoretical lens of the so-called infrastructural turn, which advocates a relational investigation of infrastructure. By engaging this approach, the paper shows how flood infrastructure can contain very different compositions of (unruly) water and (settled) land. A narrative of a historically strong focus on guarding society from the powerful forces of nature through a fixed line of defense is increasingly giving way to more muddy states—quite literally—where society is expected to learn to live with flooding and show ecological consideration. To capture the EU’s, and especially the European Commission’s efforts to establish a pan-European flood infrastructure that accommodates this turn, the concepts of de- and re-infrastructuring are developed. These concepts act as heuristic devices to capture how policy performs some combinations between water and land as constituting an attractive and functional flood infrastructure, but constitutes other infrastructural relations of the aquatic and the terrestrial as undesirable and, hence, as malfunctioning. This performative act of distinguishing between what constitutes “good and proper” versus “bad and undesirable” infrastructure is referred to as a politics of infrastructure.

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