Embodied Infrastructures: Bodies and the Infrastructural Life of Water in Delhi

Authors: Yaffa Truelove*, University of Colorado
Topics: Urban Geography, Gender, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: infrastructure, water, urban India, gender, embodiment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In Delhi, India, residents depend on a variety of sources, technologies, and political tactics to procure and transport water. Although the everyday materiality and uncertainty of urban water places the body as the site by which the city’s unequal infrastructures are most overtly experienced and mitigated, the question of how water-related infrastructures (unequally) affect bodies in cities such as Delhi has yet to receive sufficient examination. Congruently, within a growing literature that illuminates the ways that urban infrastructure is tied to urban identity, political subjectivity, and the social life of a city, material embodiment has received less attention and been relatively under-theorized as of yet. In an effort to partially address this gap, this paper considers three ways in which the everyday infrastructures of water in Delhi unequally shape urban bodies in ways that are marked by forms of gender, class and ethno-religious differentiation. Drawing on ethnographic research across neighbourhoods, I specifically examine: 1) the unequal gendered reproductive labour and risk exposure of bodies, specifically produced when people “become” infrastructure, 2) the role of infrastructural governance in co-producing gradations of the value (or devaluation) of life related to particular gendered/classed/ethno-religious bodies, and 3) the ways socially differentiated embodied experiences of infrastructure are tied to political subjectivities and claims-making strategies in the city. Ultimately, the paper argues that greater attention to embodied infrastructures is needed for revealing critical dimensions of the unequal lived experience and governance of infrastructures in cities, as well as potential openings for more just urban transformations.

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