Panel „Temporality“

Chair: Jens Ivo Engels (Technische Universität Darmstadt)

Temporality is an important factor regarding the functionality of infrastructures. There are several dimensions in which time has to be taken into account. First, time may be considered as a context. External effects, such as social and cultural, technical and economic, political and ideological circumstances in a given time period shape the design and the operation of a system. These features remain inscribed into the system’s materiality, sometimes for decades or centuries. However, changing conditions may change the system – suddenly by the impact of critical event such as a catastrophe, or gradually by social change. Second, a system’s technical features create specific time regimes. These can be the result of the network character of a technical system, including interdependencies and corresponding cascading effects. In the case of transportation, timetables may be required in order to guarantee connectedness and the flow of traffic. In this panel, historical dimensions are privileged. It includes very recent contemporary history, which might be of interest to practitioners, as well as long-term perspectives. Both „time as context“ and research and reflection on „time regimes“ will be of prime importance.

Uwe Lübken (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München):
When Rivers Don't Behave: Natural Rhythms and Infrastructural Failure(s)

In the 19th and 20th centuries, industrialization, urbanization, rapid population growth and technical innovations had a profound impact on the natural environment in general and on rivers in particular. The natural waterways acquired a plethora of new functions. Not only did they have to guarantee the steady flow of immensely increased navigation, they also had to supply drinking water for the urban masses, dispose of the waste of factories and serve as an important source of energy. To carry out these tasks, rivers in many industrialized countries had to be dramatically transformed into infrastructural arteries. They were straightened and harnessed into narrow channels, heavily polluted, and separated from large parts of their floodplains.

But what happened if the river did not “behave”? What if ice jams, droughts, and, most importantly, floods temporarily destroyed the infrastructural corridor that rivers were the backbone of? Despite the existence of often gigantic levees and floodwalls on its banks, rivers continued to flood, and cities bore the brunt of the damage. Railway networks were severely impaired if only a small portion was destroyed. Urban floods affected many citizens at the same time, especially if residential areas or shantytowns had been erected right next to the river. Critical nodes of infrastructural networks such as bridges, gas and water works were often located in urban floodplains and thus spread the effects of a disaster way beyond the affected areas.

Based mostly on examples from the United States and Europe, this contribution takes a historical look at how rivers became infrastructural corridors, how city governments and urban populations dealt with the infrastructral problems generated by river floods, and why, in the end, uncertainty about a river’s “behavior” was a far bigger challenge than the physical destruction.

Stephanie Eifert, Nadja Thiessen and Benedikt Vianden (Technische Universität Darmstadt):
Time to be in time

In this contribution, three historians of the Research Training Group KRITIS will present case studies that underline the importance of being (prepared) in time in different societies. The subjects vary from the Rhine Area to Ottoman Palestine and the timeframes range from the 15th until the 20th Century. Whether the embedding of early infrastructures in premodern societies; the integration of a modern understanding of infrastructures into a premodern, colonial setting; or the problems of a modern, industrialized and international cross-linked environment: In these time frames, there are often external forces such as military, (individual) economic and/or political conflicts which shape societies and thus the infrastructures involved. The mentioned case studies all focus on the desire to increase efficiency at the time and the related compatibility problems.

Susanne Krings (Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), Bonn):
Legislating Contingency and Managing Criticality

While activities in Germany labelled as ‘Critical Infrastructure Protection’ can be traced back to the late-1990s, the problem of making provisions seen as existentially important had already been addressed in the form of contingency acts three decades before. The reformulation of the problem of making provisions in the shape of Critical Infrastructure Protection is closely related to the institutional and conceptual shifts in civil protection in Germany after the end of the Cold War: Critical Infrastructure Protection grew into the fabric of what civil protection is understood to be today. The similarities and differences of the approaches to making provisions incorporated in the contingency acts and in Critical Infrastructure Protection have not yet received much attention.

The presentation will address the development of different modes of ‘processing’ the problem of making provisions for the population particularly in the context of civil protection. Focusing on the relation between the contingency acts in force since the mid-1960s and Critical Infrastructure Protection it will explore an aspect which has not yet been looked into in detail but has become topical in the context of the adoption of the Civil Defence Concept in 2016.