The Critical Classroom – “The Second Coming of Rail: The Spanish High‐Speed Rail‐Finance Complex”

Natalia Buier, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

Published in Antipode 52(6) in November 2020, “The Second Coming of Rail: The Spanish High-Speed Rail-Finance Complex” is an article that I would suggest is best suited for an MA or PhD course/seminar addressing contemporary processes of the production of nature. The article tackles the relationship between infrastructural developmentalism and finance through the lens of Spanish high-speed rail. It could be useful as a complement to the broader literature on processes of urbanization in contemporary Spain and the extensive body of work that has focused on the Spanish housing market in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, as it seeks to draw attention to a comparatively understudied aspect of speculative urbanisation: the development of transport infrastructure. The article offers a concrete case for discussing some analytical problems that are particularly salient politically: the relationship between finance and dematerialization; the role of the state in contemporary developmentalist processes; and the role of transport infrastructure in the production of capitalist territorial logics. It offers a useful entry point for discussing green capitalism and assessing concrete propositions in green new deal programmes.

The article could probably be productively employed alongside other recent ethnographic writing on infrastructure and contrasted with those approaches that favour the elevation of infrastructure to an analytical lens. Differently from those approaches that argue that infrastructure can productively be employed as an analytical lens, this article is best used as an illustration of approaches that favour the deconstruction of contemporary capitalist infrastructural developmentalism and that seek to historicise infrastructure as a category of appearance of fixed capital.

The article can also serve as a companion piece to conceptual discussions about David Harvey’s concept of spatial fix and its subsequent elaborations, e.g. spatio-temporal fix and socioecological fix. In light of recent discussions about the role of Marxist approaches in understanding the contemporary environmental crisis, this piece could also complement discussions about the metabolic relationship between human and extra-human nature, and be employed to raise questions about the degree to which established Marxist concepts can serve or be repurposed to capture the specificity of the production of nature in an era of financialised capitalism.

Finally, the article can offer an entry point to discussing anti-developmentalist social movements and challenge some of the misrepresentations of anti-HSR struggles, such as the Italian and Basque ones. In a context in which plans for HSR development remain uncritically embraced by progressive political forces (e.g. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of the US HSR project), the case study also introduces a salient illustration of the pitfalls of technological determinism.

Suggested resources

Mauvaise Troupe Collective and Kristin Ross (2018) The Zad and NoTAV: Territorial Struggles and the Making of a New Political Intelligence. London: Verso

Jaume Franquesa (2018) Power Struggles: Dignity, Value, and the Renewable Energy Frontier in Spain. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Michael Ekers and Scott Prudham (2017) The metabolism of socioecological fixes: Capital switching, spatial fixes, and the production of nature. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 107(6):1370-1388

Michael Ekers and Scott Prudham (2018) The socioecological fix: Fixed capital, metabolism, and hegemony. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 108(1):17-34

Deborah Cowen (2017) Infrastructures of empire and resistance. Verso Books Blog 25 January (last accessed 4 January 2021)