Hydraulic City

Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai

Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 20 illustrations Published: March 2017

Author: Nikhil Anand

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Asian Studies > South Asia, Sociology > Urban Studies

In Hydraulic City Nikhil Anand explores the politics of Mumbai's water infrastructure to demonstrate how citizenship emerges through the continuous efforts to control, maintain, and manage the city's water. Through extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Mumbai's settlements, Anand found that Mumbai's water flows, not through a static collection of pipes and valves, but through a dynamic infrastructure built on the relations between residents, plumbers, politicians, engineers, and the 3,000 miles of pipe that bind them. In addition to distributing water, the public water network often reinforces social identities and the exclusion of marginalized groups, as only those actively recognized by city agencies receive legitimate water services. This form of recognition—what Anand calls "hydraulic citizenship"—is incremental, intermittent, and reversible. It provides residents an important access point through which they can make demands on the state for other public services such as sanitation and education. Tying the ways Mumbai's poorer residents are seen by the state to their historic, political, and material relations with water pipes, the book highlights the critical role infrastructures play in consolidating civic and social belonging in the city.


"This book is a fine intervention in anthropology, geography and sociology, as it troubles not just conventional understandings of how urban fragmentation works but is also an example of engaging creatively with socio-material assemblages and processes governing everyday life in the city.  . . . This book provokes a broader scholarly imagination––one that is as empathetic as it is innovative." — Sneha Annavarapu, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"Works like . . . Hydraulic City remind us that the city matters a good deal at a time in which we are being asked to reject anachronistic boundaries between city and country and think instead of planetary urbanization or urban-rural agglomerations." — Malini Ranganathan, Society & Space

"Wonderfully written. . . . Hydraulic City is a strategic intervention into how we think about cities and urban belonging." — Alice Chen, Techno_ethno

"Using a rich, empirically grounded approach, Anand makes a major contribution to the existing literature on water services, citizenship and difference. . . . An exceptionally good read that will appeal to a broad range of audiences, both specialist and non-specialist." — Anke Schwarz, City

“Nikhil Anand makes a most significant contribution to the anthropology of the state.” — Atreyee Majumder, Pacific Affairs

Hydraulic City is an outstanding work. It will be of considerable interest to scholars of South Asian societies in general, especially those concerned with matters of the development, reproduction and undermining of states.” — Andrew Dawson, Journal of Asian and African Studies

"Timely, expansive, and thoroughly researched. . . . Undoubtedly an important text that will go on to have important afterlives in scholarship on South Asia, infrastructure, water, cities, and citizenship." — Tessa Farmer, Anthropological Quarterly

"Insightful and deeply engaging for both an ethnographer as well as a lay person. . . . Brings in a fresh perspective into urban cultural anthropology of water and its users." — Nakul Mohan Heble, Economic and Political Weekly

"The book at its best has sharp insights and is wonderfully evocative of the hard work needed to get and keep water supply from a complex socio-political-technical assemblage." — John Rennie Short, AAG Review of Books

"Deftly brings together historic and ethnographic narratives about the quest for water in the city of Mumbai and its long entanglements with the politics of citizenship. It is a work that nimbly shifts between scales and time, moving between historic narratives of installing the public water system and everyday experiences of gathering water. . . . Rife with fluidity and movement . . . This is a book that has a broad appeal that cuts across disciplinary boundaries." — Chitra Venkataramani, Asian Journal of Social Science

"Anand proficiently merges theories of infrastructure and citizenship to explain the uncertainty surrounding water in Mumbai. Thanks to his clear writing and evocative ethnographic story-telling, readers can gain a solid social and technical understanding of the leaking leviathan of Mumbai . . . A fantastic, highly enjoyable ethnography that will probably have a strong influence on debates about cities and the fluid (i.e. volatile) links between infrastructure and urban citizenship." — Lukas Ley, City & Society

"An important contribution towards understanding how infrastructure and society interface in complex and dynamic ways. . . . Anand’s ability to draw from multiple bodies of scholarship and communicate the otherwise dense, multilayered and messy real-world precarity of citizenship and access with nuance and detail is impressive. The book helps refocus, re-scale and recontextualize water’s inaccessibility as linked to intimate and dynamic facets of everyday life." — Sameer H. Shah, Progress in Development Studies

"A significant contribution. . . . A rich ethnography; each chapter engages in ethnographic story-telling, but also makes important theoretical points." — Swargajyoti Gohain, Contributions to Indian Sociology

Hydraulic City is a thoughtful ethnography of how hopes, desires, and distributions of life are mediated by and accrete in the everyday infrastructures that surround us--systems that are perpetually falling apart and, much like our own lives, relations, and imaginaries, require constant upkeep and maintenance. Such a focus is beautifully reflected in the book’s form.” — Shreyas Sreenath, Anthropology Book Forum

"Hydraulic City provides a riveting account of what water pipes do to political assertion, social identity, and individual life-worlds in a charismatic metropolis. Mumbai is a crowded cityscape for urban research, but this work finds a fresh-washed window for looking at the production and contestation of the liberal city. Pellucid writing makes a sparkling stream of this book where erudition, eloquence, and empathy combine for wonderful results: a landmark contribution to social anthropology and South Asian studies." — K. Sivaramakrishnan, Yale University

"This beautifully written book is a major contribution to the growing scholarship on infrastructure, materiality, and humanity in anthropology and adjacent fields. Its major argument, which is anchored in the idea of hydraulic citizenship, will be most valuable for scholars of neoliberal and postcolonial states, of the maximum cities of the poorer parts of the world, and of the entanglement of technology and sociality in human life." — Arjun Appadurai, author of The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nikhil Anand is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: Water Stories  vii
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction. Water Works  1
Interlude. A City in the Sea  25
1. Scare Cities  29
Interlude. Fieldwork  61
2. Settlement  65
Interlude. Renewing Water  95
3. Time Pé (On Time)  97
Interlude. Flood  127
4. Social Work  131
Interlude. River/Sewer  159
5. Leaks  161
Interlude. Jharna (Spring)  191
6. Disconnection  193
Interlude. Miracles  219
Conclusion  223
Notes 239
References  265
Index  289

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Honorable Mention, 2018 James M. Blaut Award, presented by the Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers (CAPE-AAG)

Winner, Best Book in Urban Affairs, presented by the Urban Affairs Association

Honorable Mention, 2018 Association for Political and Legal Anthropology (APLA) Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6269-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6254-8
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