Co-constructing identity and water security: Race, infrastructural exclusioning and nostalgic futures in North Carolina

Authors: Cassandra L. Workman*, University of North Carolina At Greensboro, Sameer H. Shah , Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability, University of British Columbia
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Urban Geography, United States
Keywords: water security, race, infrastructure, political ecology, global North
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 6
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the late 1990s, the predominantly white community of Morningside, North Carolina resisted annexation into a larger neighboring city. Key reasons cited included the community’s desire to “preserve their way of life” and to protect their groundwater resources. Concerns of intrusion from racially and economically diverse urban residents on small town aesthetics must be understood in a larger historical context of race and resource provisioning in the U.S. Morningside stands in stark contrast to Black communities in North Carolina which have been underbounded and excluded from municipal water and sanitation. This paper contributes to the environmental justice scholarship in several ways. First, we enrich the meaning ascribed to infrastructure and the purposes that it serves -- as a connection (as a right, as an improvement) and an intrusion. The case of Morningside demonstrates how a small, predominately white and affluent town resisted annexation and improved service connection and thus, increased reliance on untested well water, for the purposes of maintaining ownership and control of rural aesthetic, space, and residency. Second, by situating these current contests within a larger historical context, we highlight the social constructedness of water. Water can be used to marginalize at the same time people themselves become marginalizing. That is, communities are coded as undeserving of, but also dangerous to, water resources and infrastructures. We hold that environmental populism through the discourse of water resource management depoliticizes these exclusionary processes. We use water to explore nostalgia and imagined futures, evocations that rely on erasure and discursive coding.

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