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Zombie infrastructure: A legal geography of railroad monstrosity in the California desert


This paper proposes the concept of zombie infrastructure to understand the entangled histories of railroad colonialism, Indigenous dispossession, and corporate power in the California desert. I examine debates over the Cadiz project, a contemporary water project that proposes to take water from a California desert aquifer and transport it to the California coast. I argue that the life of the Cadiz project depends on Cadiz Inc.’s ability to revive the legal rights and body of a little-used railroad shortline, thus bringing back a legal infrastructure and corporate power from the late nineteenth century in the service of a new corporation. In so doing, the Cadiz project enlivens the racialized dispossession of land and labor that the railroad initially required. Routing the politics of a contemporary infrastructure project through the railroad and its octopus past, I argue, places the politics of infrastructure at the intersection of laws, monstrosity, and dispossession. Drawing on economic and legal geography, this paper proposes the concept of zombie infrastructure, a concept that builds on what activists call zombie projects in order to show the life and death of infrastructure, and reveals how contemporary capitalists enliven old infrastructures for new purposes.

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