Theses Doctoral

Contours of Crisis: Critical Infrastructure, Information Governance and Remote Work in New York City during COVID-19

Kawlra, Gayatri

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City (NYC) emerged as a global epicentre, revealing stark disparities in its impact across diverse neighbourhoods and populations. This dissertation delves into the uneven geographies of the pandemic city, critically examining the paradoxes, linkages, and questions embedded in the infrastructures that shape and are shaped by the politics of the city.

As modern life becomes increasingly intertwined with complex digital control systems, these infrastructures, far from being rational, orderly or even intelligible, obscure systems of power that govern their stable flow and circulation. Drawing on Stephen Graham’s concept of infrastructural “disruption”, this research sheds light on how everyday infrastructures—often invisible until they fail—reveal intricate tensions between distance and access, between participation and criminalisation, and between mobility and class.

Through a multi-scaled empirical analysis, this research delves deeper into the topological and topographical characteristics of urban infrastructure during a time of crisis to illuminate their role in mediating relationships between citizens, space and justice in our everyday lives. This dissertation is anchored around three categories of spatial unevenness: geographies of access, geographies of digital participation, and geographies of work. Three infrastructural modalities are interrogated during the COVID-19 moment in NYC: the built environment, a digital governance platform, and the personal mobile phone.

The study seeks to answer pivotal questions regarding access to critical pandemic response infrastructure, patterns of civic participation in NYC’s 311 non-emergency hotline, and the spatial politics of remote work behaviour. Ultimately, by unmasking the intricate web of infrastructural politics, this research offers an in-depth understanding of the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 spread and emphasises the significance of spatial considerations in our theorisations of justice.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Wu, Weiping
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 6, 2023