Civilization through Circulation: Road Infrastructure in Fascist Italian Africa

Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Andrew Denning, University of Kansas
This paper examines the centrality of road projects to Fascist Italy's African empire. The Fascists focused immense energy on colonial road-building projects in the 1920s and '30s. Although the Fascists are known for their extreme ideology and practices, theirs was not a departure from European imperial practices, but its apotheosis. Like their ancient Roman forebears, the Fascists believed that conquering foreign peoples and integrating them into a great empire demanded the construction of roads. Italian administrators imagined motorized mobility as the only possible way to civilize lands and peoples in the vast spaces, imposing landscapes, and menacing climates of Libya and Italian East Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea). The Fascist regime mobilized immense reserves of capital and employed tens of thousands of workers from both Italy and its African colonies to construct an extensive road network in a matter of only a few years.

This paper utilizes government documents, industry publications, corporate advertising, and propaganda to study the role infrastructure played, both materially and discursively, in the construction of Fascist empire in Africa. Although it might seem that infrastructure is an apolitical means to an end, the Fascist example demonstrates that infrastructure produces certain logics and worldviews that dovetail with colonial practices, a connection that was all the more extreme in the context of Fascist Italy’s authoritarianism and cultural chauvinism. Indeed, the construction of infrastructure in service of the Italian civilizing project transformed into infrastructure as civilizing project, making roads a key framework for understanding the Fascist Italian imagination and construction of empire.

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