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Global Infrastructure Networks

The Trans-national Strategy and Policy Interface

Colin Turner and Debra Johnson

Infrastructure represents the core underpinning architecture of the global economic system. Adopting an approach informed by realism, this insightful book looks at the forces for the integration and fragmentation of the global infrastructure system. The authors undertake a thorough examination of the main internationalised infrastructure sectors: energy, transport and information. They argue that the global infrastructure system is a network of national systems and that state strategies exert powerful forces upon the form and function of this system.
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The Trans-national Strategy and Policy Interface

Colin Turner and Debra Johnson

Despite its widely recognised importance to economic, political and social systems, infrastructure remains a curiously under-explored area within the social sciences. Most approaches tend to be sector specific within an examination of impacts of the establishment or evolution of economic or social infrastructure within narrow domains. Other approaches have tended to be discipline specific, seeking to isolate specific events under specific conditions (as highlighted by the transaction costs approaches within transport economics) whilst others have tended to explore infrastructure in a more abstract fashion as witnessed by the burgeoning literature on the emerging area of ‘infrastructure studies’ (which in practice has tended to be an off-shoot of information studies and has a strong focus on ICT systems). Part of the issue is that the study of infrastructure is by its very nature multi-disciplinary, which can often mean that the subject matter can be difficult to isolate.

However, having made these points, to my mind there are very strong currents from within debates regarding critical infrastructures that are having a generally integrative effect across the multi-disciplines studying these core structures that underpin contemporary systems. The study of criticality within infrastructure systems attracts academic and practitioner interest from a diverse array of fields from engineering to security studies. In part this has been driven by an increased focus on systemic approaches to the study and design of infrastructures. Such approaches draw increasingly on narratives from complexity science and highlight the logic that any single piece of infrastructure is seen as part of larger system. This reflects growing academic interest in the practice of infrastructuring (defined here as the process whereby a body – usually a state – undertakes to develop the necessary infrastructure to support territoriality) involving the recognition of spatial and functional interdependencies within the design and operation of infrastructure systems. In functional terms, this operational complexity has been highlighted by the mutually supporting nature of contemporary infrastructure systems where one sector’s infrastructure cannot operate without the existence and effective operation of infrastructure within at least one or more other sectors. Similarly, with spatial complexity (which is the primary focus of this work), the interdependencies within and between state-based national infrastructure systems can either promote or inhibit the global free movement of flows that is at the core of the Global Infrastructure System (GIS).

The approach followed within this work is one that adheres closest to the domain of International Political Economy (IPE), although in examining the establishment of infrastructure through this lens it is also necessary to draw on themes and literature from within related fields such as political geography. The IPE-based approach followed reflects on the interactions between states and markets within a globalised system of economic flows. More specifically (and following the logic of state primacy embedded within neo-realist perspectives), the work will focus on how states shape the emergent GIS. Whilst international infrastructure is not a new phenomena (one can trace such structures back to the ‘Silk Road’ and also the maritime infrastructures that supported colonialism), it is contemporary forces that are at the forefront of the analysis within this book; the contemporary forms of globalisation as identified by Held et al. (1999) with their ‘extensity of global networks, the intensity of global interconnectedness, the velocity of global flows and the impact propensity of global interconnectedness’ (p. 17).

The defining of GIS as being based upon the totality of and interaction between territorial national systems underscores the position that the efficacy of globality upon state is directly empowered by the physical structures that channel and direct these flows across and within borders. However, such a definition should not preclude the importance of soft infrastructure in also enabling or retarding global flows. This places attention on the role of National Infrastructure Systems (NIS) and of state infrastructuring in the process of state adaptability to global flows. This work (as outlined in chapters 1 and 2) treats state infrastructuring as innate state strategy to secure and/or enhance its territoriality. This is conceptualised through what is termed the state’s infrastructural mandate, which ties the state’s main functions (i.e. control, security, integration and prosperity) to the capabilities and design of its infrastructure system. Thus at the core of the work within this book is how states are adapting NIS to global flows and how this process of adaptation is shaping global flows and by implication the GIS. With these overarching research objectives, the research within the book will progress as follows.

Chapter 1 identifies the main themes within the book. Initially the chapter will examine the nature of infrastructure. This is drawn from a multi-disciplinary literature source and highlights the increasingly amorphous nature of what can be considered infrastructure. The chapter then moves on to examine the form and nature of NIS as the bedrock of the GIS. This involves exploring the components of the infrastructural mandate. The chapter examines how infrastructure aids the realisation of a number of key components of state functioning. Chapter 2 dovetails into the themes engendered within the formative chapter through seeking to address how the forces of globality are altering many, if not all, of the components of the state’s infrastructural mandate. Within the context of these adaptive tensions, the second chapter outlines the nature and structure of the GIS to be utilised within the work, noting not just the key components of territorial components but also the importance of non-territorial and transit systems to the operation of the GIS.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 offer a sectoral analysis of the broadly defined economic infrastructure sectors (namely transport, energy and information). To aid the consistency of analysis, a common structure is employed across these chapters. Initially each chapter focuses on the form and nature of the global/international component of the respective system. In so doing, each chapter examines the nature and volume of cross-border flows and the main enabling infrastructures (notably the main links and nodes) within the global system of flows for the respective infrastructural component. Thereafter, the respective chapters move on to examine the main forces for integration and fragmentation within each of the global infrastructure sectors. In each of the sectors, there seems to be a common pattern of integration but with state-based forces seeking to limit the intensity and velocity of flows across borders. These reflect both the unevenness of infrastructure across space, differing geo-economic/geo-political concerns and the varying salience states place upon enabling global flows. In short, a paradoxical situation of restrictive integration appears as the norm. Such themes as well as issues for further research are addressed within the final chapter.


Held, D., McGrew, A., Goldblatt, D. and Perraton, J. (1999) Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. London: Polity Press.