Pipe Politics, Contested Waters

Embedded Infrastructures of Millennial Mumbai

Pipe Politics, Contested Waters

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: October 2015

Author: Lisa Björkman

Asian Studies > South Asia, Geography, Sociology > Urban Studies

Winner, 2014 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences

Despite Mumbai's position as India's financial, economic, and cultural capital, water is chronically unavailable for rich and poor alike. Mumbai's dry taps are puzzling, given that the city does not lack for either water or financial resources. In Pipe Politics, Contested Waters, Lisa Björkman shows how an elite dream to transform Mumbai into a "world class" business center has wreaked havoc on the city’s water pipes. In rich ethnographic detail, Pipe Politics explores how the everyday work of getting water animates and inhabits a penumbra of infrastructural activity—of business, brokerage, secondary markets, and sociopolitical networks—whose workings are reconfiguring and rescaling political authority in the city. Mumbai’s increasingly illegible and volatile hydrologies, Björkman argues, are lending infrastructures increasing political salience just as actual control over pipes and flows becomes contingent on dispersed and intimate assemblages of knowledge, power, and material authority. These new arenas of contestation reveal the illusory and precarious nature of the project to remake Mumbai in the image of Shanghai or Singapore and gesture instead toward the highly contested futures and democratic possibilities of the actually existing city.


"Pipe Politics, Contested Waters is a vividly detailed ethnography of Mumbai captured in its policy, institutions, infrastructure, and everyday sociopolitical practices associated with the capture, delivery, and distribution of water. . . . The subject of water is multidisciplinary in approach and is best viewed through the holistic lens of anthropology. This work is a rare addition to the literature." — Namika Raby, American Anthropologist

"Björkman shows how a slum gets produced through the regulation of its water infrastructure and how this production is central to the city’s redevelopment schemes....Mumbai has long been portrayed and understood as a city of extreme wealth and poverty, epitomized in the visual of a luxury high-rise surrounded by a moat of slums. The politics of water as illustrated in this book cracks open this image by showing just how connected they are." — Rashmi Sadana, American Ethnologist

“This is a book written with a sense of fondness for the poetics of water, as well as the mundane routines that shape its everyday movement through the city. Through water, it illuminates the contradictory and overlapping logics that shape the political economy of urban governance in Mumbai, offering insights that will resonate in many other fast developing mega-cities.”

— Louise Tillin, Pacific Affairs

“Björkman engages comprehensively with this gulf and covers a vast terrain, unfolding an intriguing plot of urban infrastructure politics. . . . The book is a brilliant piece of work.”

— Srinivas Chokkakula, Journal of South Asian Studies

"This is a very impressive book, one that makes a significant contribution to the literatures on urban infrastructures, water politics and urbanization in the global South. Immersing the reader in the politics of water infrastructures is very effective in showing how the ‘big’ politics of global-city making ultimately and inevitably become bound up in context-specific politics." — Ross Beveridge, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

"[Pipe Politics, Contested Waters] overflows with novel insights on the significance of knowledge infrastructures within material networks; the workings of local politics; and the unforeseen consequences of economic reforms. It deserves to be widely read by infrastructure scholars, political anthropologists, and students of Indian political economy alike." — Elizabeth Chatterjee, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"Björkman’s account is remarkably innovative. . . . This book makes a pioneering contribution to the emerging fields of assemblage urbanism, infrastructure studies, and post-colonial urban theory." — Tanya Matthan, Contemporary South Asia

"Pipe Politics, Contested Waters is a brilliant ethnography of water and Lisa Björkman is one helluva fieldworker: indefatigable, resilient, determined, and resourceful. Determined as she was to get to the bottom of things, what she finds is that she can't. The more she tries to map the infrastructure or follow the water engineers and their workmen to the sites at which the 'system' needs to be fixed, the more the solutions, if there are any, seem out of reach. A pathbreaking book, Pipe Politics, Contested Waters is destined to become a classic in the burgeoning literature on water and water sustainability." — Steven Caton, author of Yemen Chronicle: An Anthropology of War and Mediation

"Pipe Politics, Contested Waters is an important and original study of urbanization in the global South. Using the example of Mumbai's water supply, Lisa Björkman explicates the complex nexus of cultural and political developments affecting everyday life in the city while marking an important break in the historiography of urban infrastructure networks. Björkman tells an extremely complex story very effectively." — Matthew Gandy, author of The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Lisa Björkman is Assistant Professor of Urban and Public Affairs at University of Louisville, and Research Scholar at CETREN (Transregional Research Network), University of Göttingen.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction: Embedded Infrastructures  1

1. We Got Stuck in Between: Unmapping the Distribution Network  21

2. The Slum and Building Industry: Marketizing Urban Development  62

3. You Can't Stop Development: Hydraulic Shambles  82

4. It Was Like That from the Beginning: Becoming a Slum  98

5. No Hydraulics Are Possible: Brokering Water Knowledge  128

6. Good Doesn't Mean You're Honest: Corruption  165

7. If Water Comes It's Because of Politics: Power, Authority, and Hydraulic Spectacle  198

Conclusion: Pipe Politics  227

Appendix: Department of Hydraulic Engineering  235

Notes  237

References  267

Index  277
Sales/Territorial Rights: World exc Maldives & S. Asia, incl. Myanmar

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Winner, 2014 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences

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