Accounting as Urban Politics in the Age of Austerity Urbanism

Authors: Melissa Heil*, Illinois State University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: Accounting, Austerity, Detroit, Flint, Water
Session Type: Virtual Paper
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 complex array of actors that shape conditions of social reproduction under austerity.

In this analysis, informed by performative theories of accounting, I argue that practices of accounting are a key point of urban political struggle during times of austerity. My focus is on the ways in which practices of accounting, as systems of knowledge production, categorize and represent people and objects as well as the ways they draw people and institutions into ties of obligation. Such systems of accounting are contested terrains in which ties of obligation and systems of measure can be remade in manners that reshape social relations to increase or reduce social inequality

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