Assembling drinking water quality and inequality: the case of Kaolack, Senegal

Authors: Elizabeth MacAfee*, Norwegian University of Life Sciences
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography, Africa
Keywords: Water quality, West Africa, Assemblage Theory, Environmental Justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The city of Kaolack in central Senegal is locally infamous for poor drinking water quality associated with naturally occurring fluoride and increasing salinization. Despite its unpleasant taste and long-term negative health impacts of fluoride consumption, tap water in Kaolack meets all necessary standards for potability and is quite clean microbiologically speaking. Many of those who are able to afford alternative, off-network, sources of water do not consume tap water, while lower-income households have no option but to continue drinking water they find unpleasant and suspect poses risks to their health. Drawing on analysis of policies and plans combined with eight months of interviews and ethnographic data collection, I will argue that varied understandings of what constitutes “quality” contribute to unequal distribution of hazards in drinking water. Furthermore, I will apply an assemblage theoretical approach to Drinking Water Quality. This novel theoretical approach provides new ways of understanding water quality injustices by directing attention to strategic practices of territorialization around what can and cannot be considered quality. Using conceptual tools from assemblage theory, I will explore the interfaces between primarily qualitative and flexible consumer understandings of drinking water quality and the more rigid quantitative practices of the state. I will finally argue that assembling Drinking Water Quality as a technical, apolitical issue blocks consumers from participating and making claims about their drinking water based on their embodied everyday experiences.

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