Infrastructures of Decolonization: Scales of Worldmaking in the Writings of Frantz Fanon

Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Theory
2022, Vol. 50(1) 5 –31
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00905917211009152
Infrastructures of
Decolonization: Scales
of Worldmaking in the
Writings of Frantz Fanon
Begüm Adalet1
Political theorists are increasingly drawn to the recovery of anticolonial
thinkers as global figures. Frantz Fanon is largely excluded from these
discussions because of his presumed commitment to the nation-state and its
territorialist assumptions. This essay claims, by contrast, that Fanon’s writings
reveal an alternative way of thinking about worldmaking, less as a question of
political and economic institution-building spearheaded by leaders than as a
multiscalar project that permeates the production of the built environment
and the creation of selves. I show how Fanon challenges the dichotomy
between the global and the national by seeking to transform not just the
national scale in relation to the international, but also the corporeal, urban,
rural, and regional scales of an imperially configured world. In order to read
Fanon as a scalar thinker and to highlight aspects of his thought that have been
relatively neglected, I draw on concepts from geography, and specifically scalar
analysis, which, I demonstrate, allows political theorists to develop a richer
understanding of the operations of power in colonial contexts and how they
can be restructured to inaugurate more liberated ways of being human.
Frantz Fanon, colonialism, anticolonialism, geography, infrastructure,
1Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Begüm Adalet, Cornell University, 214 White Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.
1009152PTXXXX10.1177/00905917211009152Political TheoryAdalet
6 Political Theory 50(1)
In the fifth chapter of Black Skin, White Masks (BSWM), Frantz Fanon
describes a haunting encounter with a mother and her son on a train, relating
the child’s reaction upon seeing him: “Look, maman, a Negro! I’m afraid”
(2008, 91). The scene immediately turns to one of objectification as Fanon is
fixed by the boy’s interpellation and by white gaze more broadly:
In the train, it was a question of being aware of my body, no longer in the third
person but in triple. In the train, instead of one seat, they left me two or three. I
was no longer enjoying myself. I was unable to discover the feverish coordinates
of the world. . . . I existed in triple: I was taking up room. I approached the
Other . . . and the Other, evasive, hostile . . . vanished. Nausea. . . . Peeling,
stripping my skin, causing a hemorrhage that left congealed black blood all
over my body. Yet this reconsideration of myself was not my idea. I wanted
quite simply to be a man among men. (89)
As readers of this passage have noted, the scene captures the close rela-
tionship between “human spatiality and human embodiment” (Sekyi-Otu
1996, 82), as well as Fanon’s broader discussion of the “territorialization
of the body” (Pile 2000, 264)—that is, a tangibly material process of
racialization whereby “racial hierarchy is scratched into the surface of the
skin” (Marasco 2015, 146). Rather than present a transhistorical or essen-
tialist account of this process, Fanon describes racism as a situated and
sociospatial relation, whereby the “colonial body-self continually encoun-
ters the material landscape itself” (McKittrick 2006, 26). In these pas-
sages, spatial divisions and material conditions determine and mediate the
ways in which power shapes lived experience. Rather than facilitate ease
of movement for all passengers, the setting of the train generates asym-
metrical possibilities for mobility.
Looking more closely at Fanon’s depiction of his experience, one is struck
by his writing across different spaces—that of the body, the train, and ulti-
mately the “coordinates of the world.” His encounter with the child seals him,
as Lewis Gordon (2015) puts it, “in a world without reciprocity” (49).
Foreclosed in the moment of objectification is a “genuine dialectic between
my body and the world” (Fanon 2008, 91). Emphasizing the relationality
between the body, infrastructure, and globe, Fanon writes in these and later
passages both about the existing world of racial hierarchy and domination,
which he seeks to “restructure” (63), and about the alternative world he
would like to “build together” (92).
Political theorists are increasingly drawn to the recovery of anticolonial
thinkers as global figures. Gary Wilder’s (2015) account of regional and fed-
erational projects as alternative visions of decolonization and Adom
Getachew’s (2019) recasting of anticolonial nationalism as “worldmaking”

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