Social Reproduction and The Politics of Owing: Accounting, Austerity, and Water Struggles in Detroit and Flint

Authors: Melissa Heil*, University of Illinois
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: water, social reproduction, austerity, Flint, Detroit
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 2:25 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Columbine, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Terrace Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, I examine the practices of accounting reshaping social reproductive life under austerity in Flint and Detroit with respect to their water systems. In particular, I interrogate three kinds of accounting practices: those which contributed to the dispossession of water, those which now regulate its distribution under conditions of austerity-induced scarcity, and those deployed by water activists seeking to remake the conditions of social reproduction. This analysis considers a variety of accounting practices taking place in multiple institutions – governmental departments, social service agencies, court systems, and activist coalitions – in recognition of the embeddedness of practices of accounting social life and in recognition of the complex array of actors that shape conditions of social reproduction under austerity.This analysis focuses on the systems of accounting themselves: the ways in which these systems of knowledge production categorize and represent people and objects and the ways they draw people and institutions into ties of obligation. This paper uncovers accounting as an important terrain for political struggle under austerity, identifying both accounting practices that divorce people from the means of reproduction and practices which challenge the logics of austerity rule.

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