Negotiating states of water: producing illegibility, bureaucratic arbitrariness, and distributive injustices in Delhi
(University of Colorado)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the co-production of knowledge and ignorance with regard to Delhi's water. I detail how their entanglement is tied to both material and bureaucratic practices, perpetuating a "negotiated" state of water that takes longer-term (infra)structural solutions off the table.
Paper long abstract:
State quantifications of Delhi's water supply proclaim some of the highest levels of water access in urban South Asia. However, accompanying such representations are a number of discrepancies and ambiguities, suggesting an appearance of legibility is produced in the absence of data and key calculations. Recent studies of the everyday state demonstrate that the co-production of legibility and illegibility may be more norm than exception, thus requiring a re-thinking of some of the core theorizations concerning biopolitical power and statecraft. This paper examines the co-production of both knowledge and ignorance with regard to the city's water. I show that their entanglement is tied to material and bureaucratic practices that have both arbitrary and deliberate dimensions. Ultimately, such practices perpetuate a "negotiated" state of water, politicizing water at localized levels, while taking longer-term (infra)structural solutions off the table. Consequently, neither poor nor elite residents escape Delhi's ambiguous water supply and face differing degrees of vulnerability to its uncertainty and distributive injustices. This article advocates for discerning the (co-)production of differing types of legibility and illegibility as well as the discursive, material and situated effects of such knowledge and ignorance production with regard to urban water governance in the everyday.
Hydroscapes and hydrosocial states: culture and the political ecology of water governance