Specters of rationing haunt metro São Paulo. Water supplies have plunged to historic, dangerous lows. The idea of rationing has become a flash-point. The state’s center-right governor has insisted that rationing be avoided at all costs and the state’s profit-driven water utility has followed suit, even as dwindling water supplies are being opaquely and unequally distributed. To make sense of the situation, I propose, through an exploration of the crisis’s origins and recent developments that builds on over one year of ethnographic fieldwork, a new approach to ecological scarcity. It revitalizes, in a socioecological and crisis-sensitive form, Manuel Castells’s concept of collective consumption politics, with a focus on housing and land use. The question is how acute crises and longstanding socioecological struggles interact, from above and below. In São Paulo, this dilemma takes the form of housing movements’ and environmentalists’ longstanding estrangement, but prompted by crisis, some leaders are experimenting with cooperation. In an echo of the June 2013 bus fare protests, this fledgling coalition proposes a democratic version of rationing that goes beyond the distribution of water through pipes and that threatens broader power arrangements.

You do not currently have access to this content.