Domestic Publics: On Gender, Urban Water and the Matter of Government

Tuesday, April 12, 2016 - 9:30am
Urban Studies Office: Room 130 McNeil Building
Presenter: Nikhil Anand, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

Discussant: Farha Gannam, Professor of Anthropology, Swarthmore College


This paper argues that hydraulic publics are constituted through the material relations that form Mumbai’s water infrastructure.  By attending closely to the interactions around the demand for water connections at a city councilor’s office, the paper demonstrates the vital role of gendered relations of kinship and stranger sociality in the making of hydraulic publics.  These relational forms that not only enable people to live, they also play a critical role in structuring Mumbai’s urban water infrastructure.  As these infrastructures (wells, pipes, tanks) divide and differentiate water in different ways, they in turn constitute gatherings of people who care about water- domestic publics - that are made by water’s vitality.  As such, the paper builds on the work of Noortje Marres (2012) to demonstrate how hydraulic publics are brought into being through the material and intimate political commitments to care for the extensive and enduring consequences of water distribution in Mumbai.  The emergent urban publics that ensue are not necessarily subjects  of the “bourgois public sphere” (Habermas 1991) or counterpublics (Warner 2002).  The paper demonstrates how urban publics are constituted through iterative relations between discursive regimes, enunciatory communities (Fortun 2004) and with the domestic-material relations that constitute the infrastructures of the liquid city.