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Designing Infrastructure for the Poor: Transactions Within Unstable Ecologies*

Thinking Infrastructures

ISBN: 978-1-78769-558-0, eISBN: 978-1-78769-557-3

Publication date: 7 August 2019


Over the past three decades, new off-grid electrification infrastructures – as micro-grids and other solar solutions – have moved from innovative initiatives, conducted by NGOs and private stakeholders, to a credible model promoted by international organizations for electrification of rural areas in developing countries. Multiple conditions support their spread: major technological advances in the field of renewable energies (panels, batteries), intensive Chinese industrial production allowing lower prices, institutional reforms in Africa including these solutions in major national electrification programmes, and, finally, an opening to the private sector as a supposed guarantee of the projects’ viability. However, while the development of this market calls for significant investments, a vast set of calculations and a strong “micro-capitalist” doctrine, all involved in their design, experts admit that a large proportion of projects hardly survive or even fail.

This chapter investigates these failures by exploring the ecology of such infrastructures, designed for “the poor.” It discusses “thinking infrastructures” in terms of longevity by focusing on economic failures risks. The authors argue that the ecology of the infrastructure integrates various economic conversions and exchanges chains expected to participate in the infrastructure’s functioning. By following energy access solutions for rural Africa in sub-regions of Senegal and Madagascar, from their political and technical design to their ordinary life, the authors examine the tensions and contradictions embedded within the scripts of balance supposed to guarantee their success.



Cholez, C. and Trompette, P. (2019), "Designing Infrastructure for the Poor: Transactions Within Unstable Ecologies*", Kornberger, M., Bowker, G.C., Elyachar, J., Mennicken, A., Miller, P., Nucho, J.R. and Pollock, N. (Ed.) Thinking Infrastructures (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 62), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 335-354.



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