In the Indian city of Mumbai, two dazzling decades of urban development and roaring economic growth have presided over the steady deterioration – and sometimes spectacular breakdown – of the city’s water infrastructures. Water troubles plague not only the more-than 60% of city residents now reported to live in ‘slums,’ but city elites as well have seen their taps grow increasingly erratic and prone to drying up. The everyday risks of water shortage that infuse the city’s water infrastructures– risks that flow across class lines – are managed and mitigated through the forging and maintenance of elaborate knowledge-exchange networks. Getting water to come out of Mumbai’s pipes is an activity that requires continuous attention to and intimate knowledge of a complex and dynamic social and political hydraulic landscape. Ethnographic attention reveals how water is made to flow by means of intimate forms of knowledge and ongoing intervention in the city’s complex and dynamic social, political, and hydraulic landscape. The everyday work of getting water animates and inhabits a penumbra of infrastructural activity – of business, brokerage, secondary markets and socio-political networks – whose workings are transforming lives as well as reconfiguring and rescaling political authority in the city. Mumbai’s illegible and volatile hydrologies are lending infrastructures increasing political salience just as actual control over pipes and flows becomes contingent upon dispersed and intimate assemblages of knowledge, power, and material authority.
Lisa Björkman is a research scholar at the University of Göttingen’s Transregional Research Network (CETREN) in Germany. Her work studies how global processes of urbanism and urban transformation are redrawing lines of socio-spatial exclusions and inclusions in Mumbai, animating new arenas of political mobilization, contestation and representation Lisa’s forthcoming book (Duke University Press 2015), Pipe Politics, Contested Waters: Embedded Infrastructures of Millennial Mumbai, which was awarded the American Institute of Indian Studies’ 2014 Book Prize in the Indian Social Sciences, is a political ethnography about the encounter in Mumbai between market-oriented urban development reforms and the material politics of the city’s water infrastructures. Lisa received a PhD in Politics from the New School for Social Research in New York in 2011.