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Water, life and politics in Durban, 10 March



Speaker: Sofie Hellberg
Date: Tuesday 10 March 2015
Time: 9-11am NOTE NEW TIME
Venue: CCS Seminar Room 602, 6th Floor, MTB Tower, Howard College

Topic: There are numerous studies of water governance in Durban, but few with a biopolitical orientation. The municipalityís techniques of targeting certain types of populations as appropriate for particular technological solutions require different kinds of agency in order for users to safeguard access to water. This reading of peopleís water stories suggests that Durban hydropolitics consolidates the disconnectedness of the different lives that are lived in Durbanís communities. Ultimately, such a biopolitical reading of the water usersí narratives illustrates how water performs a function in constituting both life and lifestyles and that an implementation of the right to basic water can work so as to produce, or further entrench, distinctions between different forms of life.

Speaker: Sofie Hellberg, a long-standing CCS visiting scholar, recently completed her doctorate at the University of Gothenburg's School of Global Studies unit on Peace and Development Research.

Water, life and politics: Exploring the contested case of eThekwini
municipality through a governmentality lens

Sofie Hellberg

This article explores biopolitical effects of water governance. Based on narrative interviews with water users in eThekwini municipality, South Africa the article inquires into how water service delivery matters in terms of peopleís lives. What we learn by paying close attention to the water usersí narratives is that the ways in which water service delivery are carried out in eThekwini have differentiating effects on how water users perceive themselves and their lives. Moreover, the narratives show how the municipalityís techniques of targeting certain types of populations as appropriate for particular technological solutions require that the water users exercise different forms of agency in order to safeguard access to water.

This reading of peopleís water stories suggests that the hydropolitics of eThekwini consolidates the disconnectedness of the different lives that are lived in Durbanís communities. Ultimately, such a biopolitical reading of the water usersí narratives illustrates how water performs a function in constituting both life and lifestyles and that an implementation of the right to basic water can work so as to produce, or further entrench, distinctions between different forms of life.

The Biopolitics of Water
Technology, Subjectivity and Lifestyle in eThekwini Municipality, South Africa
Sofie Hellberg
Doctoral Dissertation in Peace and Development Research
School of Global Studies
University of Gothenburg
February 2015

Water issues have for a long time been of central political concern in South Africa due to the scarcity of the resource. During the apartheid era, the distribution of water was deeply intertwined with a nationalist and racist agenda.

In the transition to democracy in 1994, water became an important issue,
both symbolically and materially, for a redistribution of resources within the
country. This thesis explores the effects of this shift in water politics in the
local context of eThekwini municipality. The municipality has been argued
to be an exemplary case in relation to global norms of water management.
It has, however, also been the target of severe critique.

Based on narrative interviews with water users in the municipality the thesis inquires into how the arrangement of water service delivery matters in terms of peopleís lives. On the basis of these narratives, the thesis shows how water governance can be understood as biopolitically performative in the way that notions of Self and Other and distinctions between different lifestyles are shaped. Ultimately, such a biopolitical reading of the water usersí narratives illustrates how an implementation of the right to basic water can work so as to (re)produce, or further entrench, distinctions between different forms of life.


 Other seminar programmes
 WISER Seminar Series 
 UKZN History Seminar Series 
 The Wolpe Trust 



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