The Construction of Urban Infrastructure and the Process of Governmentalization – Lecture by Prof. Matt Palus

Today, Prof. Matt Palus visited Annapolis and gave a lecture relating to his dissertation topic involving the use of infrastructure building by governments in order to organize the society to optimize its control and authority. Dr. Palus studied public utilities such as electrification, and enclosed sanitation within Annapolis and its surrounding suburb of Eastport.  Traditionally, archaeologists had not seen value in studying these modern conveniences as something that could answer questions about societal structure.

Dr. Palus contends that the government’s mandate for connection to public sanitation services, the discourse related to the improvement of public health, and the acceptance of the government directive by the citizenry constitutes ideology. According to Mancuse large systems such as these transform societies. The primary concern of the people becomes the maintenance of system. The apparatus becomes a form of control.

Additionally, Foucault’s theory of the creation of self-discipline by creating the sense being perpetually monitored is reinforced when the government becomes governmentalized is evident in the city where public services are controlled by the government and social statistics and the apparatus of security are applied.  The measures of the population, the functioning of the economy, and the maps of sewer lines are examples of such statistics. As for the apparatus of security, census takers, health officers, and those responsible for public works are seen as examples. The street lights and sewers themselves are seen as apparatuses of security and become the material culture of the government.

When the suburb of Eastport was divided and sold, many became first time homeowners. African Americans clustered in the Back Creek area and thrived. By 1910-1930, the number of African American homeowners was equal to that of whites in Eastport. After Reconstruction, African Americans utilized two major strategies to establish themselves. One of these was the purchase of land near cities where the jobs were. The US Naval Academy employed many from Eastport.

We discussed his paper “Infrastructure and the Conduct of Government: Annexation of the Eastport Community into the City of Annapolis in the Twentieth Century” and looked at maps which show the areas which were connected to public utilities and the census data for the areas. The study of the location and timing of the building of public utilities such as sewers, water treatment facilities/reservoirs, and electrification can show how the process served to splinter the community. Palus cites Graham and Marvin’s idea of splintering urbanism and the consequences of the social process of providing public services to a select demographic and not another. The haves and have nots were clustered into separate areas.

Palus’ research shows, as he describes in the conclusion of his paper, the African American members of the Eastport community were able to be self sustaining and independent of the larger public system. In other words, they avoided becoming a part of the governmentalized system by providing their own apparatus of security with their own wells and privies. This was accomplished by achieving homeownership, which equaled wealth. They were not bound to the maintenance of the system as described in Mancuse’s scenario. In this way, they rebelled against the racialized government apparatuses.


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