Social belonging through material water infrastructure – a hydro-social analysis of informal water access in the city of Antofagasta, Chile

Authors: Melissa Bayer*, Institute for Geography, University of Münster, Germany
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Latin America
Keywords: water access, water infrastructure, informal settlements, citizenship, Political Ecology, Chile
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The formation of modern cities in Latin America is not only the result of state-approved urban planning and construction, but also of rather informal processes of land acquisition, auto-construction and auto-urbanization, contributing to the emergence of so-called informal settlements. This contribution takes a closer look at the informal settlements of the city of Antofagasta in Northern Chile: While these settlements are predominantly located within the municipal boundary, they are at the same time situated on state-owned territory that is classified as uninhabitable. For the more than 16000 inhabitants, this entails living in insecure tenure situations that lack basic service provision – with water access being the residents’ main concern.
Drawing on extensive qualitative fieldwork carried out between 2018 and 2020, and expanding the analytical lens of Urban Political Ecology by the concepts of Hydromentalities and Acts of Citizenship, this contribution offers a hydro-social analysis of the informal practices of water access employed by the residents of Antofagasta’s informal settlements. It will be shown (1) how residents contest the official water provision system by extending the distribution network beyond its current limits, and (2) how social and political representations of citizenship are thereby challenged.
By taking into account both the material and the symbolic logics of the different hydro-social configurations of water access, this contribution sheds light on the reciprocal relationship of water infrastructure and social belonging, paving the way for a more nuanced discussion of urban water governance for all.

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