This article turns ethnographic attention to the everyday practices involved in managing the ever-present possibility of water shortage in contemporary Mumbai. Drawing on research carried out in a few different neighborhoods—both popular as well as “world class”—that are supplied water by a single reservoir, Björkman’s essay highlights the social and political fields through which water-shortage risk is encountered, as well as the everyday practices to which such risks give rise. Water risk, it is argued, inhabits a landscape of rumor, stealth, and speculation—on materialities such as pipe locations, water pressures, and the timings and operations of valves, as well as on the networks of power and influence that might underpin the appearances and disappearances of water. These risks are hedged by means of the continuous gathering and ongoing exchange of water-related knowledge and rumor. The opacities of the water distribution system, it is shown, mean that water-related risk does not map easily onto a socioeconomic geography. Expanding the scope of research beyond moments of spectacular breakdown thus allows for attention to the means by which everyday risks of shortage are mitigated, and provides insight not only into how the poor achieve a measure of water security, but also into how the “world-class” effect of uninterrupted infrastructure is produced.
Lisa Björkman; Un/Known Waters: Navigating Everyday Risks of Infrastructural Breakdown in Mumbai. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2014; 34 (3): 497–517. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2826061
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