17 Oct 2017
Infrastructures, citizenship and urban transformations
Cases from India and Ethiopia

Speakers : Nikhil Anand and Daniel Mains
Moderator : Filip De Boeck
Location : Auditorium STUK, Naamsestraat 96, Leuven


Nikhil Anand, Anthropologist, Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania
Leaks and the Hydraulic City
 In this talk I will present an overview of my recently published book, Hydraulic City. Drawing attention to the ways in which settlers in Mumbai establish access to water in the city, I begin by showing that urban citizenship is not an event in linear time, but a fickle, distributed and reversible process. Next, I attend to the ways in which water leaks in the public system.  Rather than theorize this leakage as ‘loss’, I argue that it is constitutive of the water infrastructure in cities. Neither fully in the water engineers’ control, nor out of their domain, leaks are vital sites not only for the making of political authority, but also of lives that are rendered marginal and illegal by the rules of the city.  Based on over two years of ethnographic fieldwork with city water engineers, social workers, politicians, plumbers and urban residents, Hydraulic City demonstrates how water infrastructures are critical sites for the making of cities and citizenship   


Daniel Mains, Anthropologist, Assistant Professor at University of Oklahoma
Under Construction: Infrastructure, Labor, and the State in Urban Ethiopia

In this talk I advance construction as a temporal narrative for conceptualizing change in urban Ethiopia and the African continent more broadly.  The Ethiopian state is currently investing billions of dollars in the construction of large scale infrastructures like hydroelectric dams, roads, and telecommunication networks. Roads peeled back and dug up, rivers diverted, houses bulldozed – it is in the process of construction that contingency is revealed and simple temporal narratives are unsettled.  Attention to the process of construction reveals incremental progressive growth as well as high levels of instability and uncertainty.  I examine three instances of construction in urban Ethiopia - the regulation of public transportation and the building of asphalt and cobblestone roads.  In each case attention to construction as a temporal narrative supports an analysis in which multiple dynamics remain in dialogue with each other.  It is during the process of construction that labor, materials, and the state collide. Although construction encompasses elements of utopia and dystopia ultimately it suggests a method for conceptualizing development in the cities of the global south that is based in the encounter between labor, materials, and the state.


Nikhil Anand is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on the political ecology of cities, read through the different lives of water.  His first book, Hydraulic City focuses on the everyday ways in which cities and citizens are made through the everyday management of water infrastructure in Mumbai.  Articles based on this research have also been published in Antipode, Cultural Anthropology, Ethnography and Public Culture. With Hannah Appel and Akhil Gupta, Dr. Anand is co-editor of a forthcoming volume, The Promise of Infrastructure (forthcoming with Duke University Press), that focuses on the ways in which infrastructure provides a generative ground to theorize time and politics.  Dr. Anand has a Masters in Environmental Science from Yale University and a PhD in Anthropology from Stanford University.


Daniel Mains is Wick Cary Associate Professor of Anthropology and African Studies in the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma and Humboldt Research Fellow at ZMO in Berlin, Germany.  He is the author of Hope is Cut: Youth, Unemployment, and the Future in Urban Ethiopia (Temple University Press, 2012).  His current book project, tentatively titled Under Construction: Technologies of Development in Urban Ethiopia, examines the politics of infrastructural development in relation to hydroelectric dams, cobblestone and asphalt roads, and the regulation of public transportation. Mains has published articles in academic journals including Africa, American Ethnologist, Cultural Anthropology, and the Journal of Modern African Studies. At the University of Oklahoma Honors College he teaches courses on capitalism, development, globalization and Africa, modernity, and youth cultures.


Anand, Nikhil (2011) Pressure: The PoliTechnics of Water Supply in Mumbai. Cultural Anthropology 26, no. 4: 542–564.

Mains, D. (2012) Blackouts and Progress: Privatization, Infrastructure, and a Developmentalist State in Jimma, Ethiopia. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 27, Issue 1, pp. 3–27. ISSN 0886-7356, online ISSN 1548-1360.

Mains, D. (2013) Friends and money: Balancing affection and reciprocity among young menin urban Ethiopia . AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 40, No. 2, pp. 335–346, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425.

Mains, D. et all (2017) Governing three-wheeled motorcycle taxis in urban Ethiopia: States, markets, and moral discourses of infrastructure. AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 1–12, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425.

Mains, D; Kinfu, E. (2016) Making the city of nations and nationalities: the politics of ethnicity and roads in Hawassa, Ethiopia . J. of Modern African Studies, 54, 4. pp 645-669.

Mains, D. (2007) Neoliberal times: Progress, boredom, and shame among young menin urban Ethiopia. AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 659–673, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425

DEBATES 2017/2018
17 Oct 2017
Cases from India and Ethiopia
31 Oct 2017
Cases from Brazil and West-Africa
14 Nov 2017
Cases from India and Senegal
28 Nov 2017
Cases from Berlin and Johannesburg
12 Dec 2017
Cases from Liberia and South-Africa