Presentation abstracts

Rutherford, Jonathan, Université Paris Est

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Rutherford, Jonathan, Université Paris Est
Beyond/before infrastructure: socio-technical disposition and planning for water and wastewater services in the Stockholm archipelago

Jonathan Rutherford, LATTS, Université Paris Est (France)
Draft extended abstract for Global suburban infrastructures workshop, Waterloo (Canada), June 2015

The starting point for this paper is the observation that “the suburban infrastructural networks and grids are massively unknown and in need of better understanding and explanation. Suburban infrastructures suffer from the same simplification and stereotyping, the same neglect as the suburbs themselves” (Filion and Keil 2015, p.20). In this regard, we need to know more about suburban infrastructures, and we need to find a way of knowing and reading them which is distinct (but not so disconnected) from our reading of urban infrastructure for big dense cities, and which thus accounts for the socio-technical specificities of suburbs and suburban processes.

This is especially the case as in the peripheral areas of European cities that are not (yet) served by traditional centralized infrastructure, local officials are questioning the relevance of network extensions. In these contexts of low population density, actors and authorities are weighing up the options, between on the one hand the possible return on investment from network deployment, and on the other hand the technical difficulties and additional costs that would result from laying the necessary cables and pipelines. This is especially true for wastewater and energy (non-electric) systems, but also in some cases for water supply. These areas that lie beyond the network may be included in future extension plans or may be more dependent on alternative forms of service delivery, which in some cases may provide more satisfactory or relevant results. The production of suburban infrastructure configurations is, however, always a political process shaped by the interests, values and resources of particular actors.
This paper draws on some recent research conducted in peripheral municipalities of Stockholm County in Sweden on infrastructure forms, planning and politics in a context of shifting suburban demographics, lifestyles and techno-economic constraints. I start from a map of Stockholm County showing a large blue mass of centralized water and wastewater networked infrastructures in dense urban core areas surrounded by extremely fragmented patches of ‘other’ systems in much of the outer peripheral areas where access to networked water infrastructures is far less prevalent. What is infrastructure therefore in these outer areas? How do households access water and wastewater services? Under what conditions, according to which factors? How do municipalities plan for or anticipate suburban and infrastructural development? Beyond or before (expected, habitual, LTS) infrastructure are ‘other’ existing socio-technical configurations adapted to situated suburban contexts of planning, finance, materiality and technicity (suburbanization), and ways of living/inhabiting these areas (suburbanisms).
To help with thinking through this case, and to begin to conceive of (the politics of) suburban socio-technical infrastructure configurations in new ways (or in ways which reflect situated suburban contexts), I will experiment with Easterling’s (2014) work on disposition in infrastructure space and her immanent reading of infrastructure spatial forms and their political implications. I track multipliers, topologies and stories as forms of disposition in infrastructure in suburban Stockholm.
Through this reading, the politics of (suburban) infrastructure is shown to be less about presence/absence and inequalities in absolute access to a stable configuration, than about the forms and outcomes of specific dispositions of infrastructure (and notably the sometimes quite local uneven distribution of costs and benefits of those dispositions). The Stockholm study shows that wider decisions about and planning of the future development of suburbs take place through infrastructure / socio-technical systems which “come out as fundamental stakes in conflicts around the organization and evolution of cities and societies” (Filion and Keil 2015, p.5).
Several municipalities in the Greater Stockholm periphery make clear distinctions in their planning strategies between areas already connected to a municipal or inter-municipal water and wastewater network, areas that are expected to be linked to such networks in the future and those that will permanently remain beyond municipal networks for various technical, geographic and economic reasons. These latter areas, where individual wells and septic systems predominate, constitute a sizeable proportion of the Stockholm archipelago. A total of 100,000 households in the region are not connected to official water or wastewater networks, or both. In Norrtälje, which is the largest municipality in terms of area, 45% of the population lives beyond the reach of centralized infrastructure networks. Infrastructure is also, crucially, closely linked to particular, evolving forms of suburbanism here as areas which were only previously inhabited during summer become areas of ‘permanent’ living with important implications for service provision, and as more and more people move in to these areas where homes and land are cheaper than in central parts of the Stockholm region. So the rationale of ‘total network coverage’ is far from the reality here. Several techniques, depending on the locality, are employed for the provision of water and sanitation services. In between a direct connection to a centralized network at one end of the scale, and individual solutions such as wells and septic tanks at the other, are several options that are utilized for small groups of dwellings, which are often located some distance from urban centres. Either the dwellings cluster together to connect to a centralized network, or they implement collective autonomous solutions, such as a small treatment plant for example, which are used only by the local residents. This hierarchy of technical solutions according to several local factors (density, distance from network, geographical conditions, costs, etc.) therefore allows the adaptation of services to vary to some extent, depending on specific contexts and living conditions. This approach to infrastructure, which operates on the principle that a number of sparsely populated areas will never be supplied by centralized network systems, opposes the largely dominant view that network expansion tends to follow, accompany or even anticipate the urbanization of new suburban areas.
As an increasing proportion of urban development is suburban, then a focus on evolving suburban infrastructures casts light on how a traditional urban paradigm of centralized infrastructure deployment, growth and extension is shifting, and thus how the suburbs are also a site of socio-technical and sociopolitical change beyond a ‘networked city’ frame of thinking and planning practice. At the same time, local suburban infrastructure planning also serves a broader regional purpose in equipping zones where further population growth is taking place and is expected, and thus sheds light on the politics of urban regional development and its resource distributions. Decisions and configurations are ripe with tension and conflict as they reshuffle existing arrangements for particular interests and contested purposes. There is thus a material politics to suburban infrastructure which is excessive of technical systems and works through specific forms of disposition made visible in the relations between infrastructure components.

Schramm, Sophie and Wright Contreras, Lucia

Suburban constellations of water supply and sanitation in Hanoi—Abstract

Sophie Schramm and Lucía Wright Contreras;

Doi moi, Vietnam’s transition from a socialist state towards a socialist-oriented market economy roughly 30 years ago has triggered massive urban growth in the country, where national urbanization rates were 33% in 2014 (UN, 2014) and are now projected to reach 58.8% by 2049 (GSO, 2011: 27). Particularly Hanoi, the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, has been facing massive urban growth since the beginning of the 1990s, as relaxed influx controls and new economic opportunities have motivated people to migrate from territories formerly designated as rural to the city (Quang and Kammeier, 2002; Han and Vu 2008). The government has reacted to this influx with a step-by-step expansion of the city’s administrative area through the creation of new urban districts. Furthermore, in “growth coalitions” with real estate developers, the city government of Hanoi has promoted the development of so called “new urban areas”, housing estates on former farming land (Labbé and Boudreau, 2011). These new urban areas shape the suburban landscape of Hanoi together with peri-urban villages, which have expanded rapidly since doi moi and partly integrated into the urban fabric. In short, “In physical terms, a new type of urbanism has emerged at the edge of the city, with a great diversity of intermixed landscapes, including walled residential estates, ad hoc densification of pre-existing villages, and the tight intermingling of small-scale industries with commercial, residential and agricultural activities.” (Leaf, 2002: 29). Thus, it is particularly the suburban landscape of Hanoi, which reflects the increased social stratification in Vietnam since the introduction of a market economy in the 1990s (Labbé and Musil, 2011).

These suburban socio-spatial constellations are particularly apparent in urban systems of water and sanitation. While investments in the expansion of water supply and - to a lesser extent - sanitation networks result in relatively high connection rates of citizens to central networks, the public utilities for water supply and sanitation respectively have hardly undergone institutional changes. Despite the political goals of economic liberalization and recovery of costs in infrastructure service provision along with the transition to market socialism, urban water and sanitation policies still reflect the modern ideal of service provision through large infrastructure networks at low costs to urban dwellers. Due to outdated institutional structures and policies as well as low cost recovery from tariffs, the capacities of both utilities are severely restricted. This contributes to a diversification of service provision in suburban areas. Firstly, new actors emerge, who provide services exclusively within new urban areas, thus creating spatially restricted “satellite network systems”, often ignoring and at times disturbing surrounding topologies of water and sanitation provision. Secondly, in peri-urban villages, a hybrid mix of self-organized and community-based forms of service provision from wells or through septic tanks, or local water and sanitation networks emerges (Schramm, 2014). Thus, suburban areas of Hanoi are subject to drastic socio-spatial diversifications and decoupling of service provision.

We analyse these trends starting from the stance of urban infrastructure studies, according to which flows of (waste) water are closely intertwined with urbanization patterns and reveal broader dynamics of urban resource distribution and access (Graham and Marvin, 2001; Kooy and Bakker, 2008). Thus, Hanoi’s “splintered” landscapes of water and sanitation provision, consisting of centralized piped- water and sanitation schemes, privately-owned wells, decentralized septic tanks, and other technologies, are a crucial lens to explain the fragmented urbanization of Hanoi reflecting Vietnam’s social stratification since doi moi. We study the ecology of potable water sourcing and distribution, wastewater collection and disposal, and its relations with social and political constellations that direct the management and investment in water and sanitation systems. Thus, by comparing new urban areas and peri-urban villages, we reveal the contradictions between formal policies, which follow the modern ideal of unitary network provision and actual patterns of service provision shaped by broader suburbanization dynamics.

We focus our analysis on suburban areas, as we hypothesize, that a) their particular infrastructure constellations reveal contested power relations between different stakeholders and structural changes in global urbanization processes and that b) due to their rapid transformations and the relative weakness of path-dependent centralized infrastructure systems, they have the potential to host innovations and alternative infrastructural solutions (cf. Monstadt and Schramm 2013). We conclude by considering potentials for a more equitable distribution of resources and services in Hanoi through a broader spectrum of water provision and sanitation solutions. This research urges urban planners and local governments to revise the direction of future planning visions.


Graham, S., & Marvin S. (2001) Splintering urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities and the urban condition. Psychology Press.

General Statistics Office (GSO) (2011) "Part 2: Projection result tables", in Projected Population for Vietnam 2009-2049. Available:‌11016 [Updated: 2011. Accessed: Mar. 18, 2015].

Han, S. S., & Vu K. T. (2008) "Land acquisition in transitional Hanoi, Vietnam", in Urban Studies, 45(5-6), pp. 1097-1117.

Kooy, M., & Bakker K. (2008) "Technologies of government: constituting subjectivities, spaces, and infrastructures in colonial and contemporary Jakarta" in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(2), pp. 375-391.

Labbé, D., & Boudreau, J. A. (2011) "Understanding the causes of urban fragmentation in Hanoi: the case of new urban areas", in International Development Planning Review, 33(3), pp. 273-291.

Labbé, D., & Musil, C. (2014) "Periurban land redevelopment in Vietnam under market socialism", in Urban Studies, 51(6), pp. 1146-1161.

Leaf, M. (2002) "A tale of two villages: globalization and peri-urban change in China and Vietnam" in Cities, 19(1), 23-31.

Monstadt, J. and Schramm, S. (2013) "Beyond the networked city? Suburban constellations in water and sanitation systems", in Keil, R. (Ed). Suburban Constellations. Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century, Berlin: Jovis, pp. 85-94.

Quang, N., & Kammeier, H. D. (2002) "Changes in the political economy of Vietnam and their impacts on the built environment of Hanoi" in Cities, 19(6), pp. 373-388.

Schramm, S. (2014) Stadt im Fluss: Das Abwasserentsorgungssystem Hanois im Lichte sozialer und räumlicher Transformationen. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.

UN (2014) World Urbanization Prospects: highlights. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. United Nations: New York.

Simone, AbdouMaliq, Max Planck Institute
Relays—reworking trajectories of articulation among peripheries and cores

AbdouMaliq Simone, Research Professor, Max Planck Institute for Ethnic and Religious Diversity

I am not a man of the suburbs, per se. Almost all of my work across past decades has taken place in urban cores, although the distinction between core and suburb is something that in Africa and Asia oscillates, and sometimes even inverts. In this presentation on Greater Jakarta, I want to emphasize the shifting interfaces as a locus for various relays undertaken by residents that are forced, and sometimes choose, to maintain a position in very different urban settings.
Desires for security and ownership of property, widely believed to be a critical guarantee of security, prompt large numbers of residents in Jakarta to acquire it at the peripheries of cities. Vast tracks of cheaply built, largely single story dormitory-like small houses are constructed with initially “shiny surfaces” and offered at low prices. These are being taken up en mass particularly by a young generation of aspirant middle class couples and households whose incomes can no longer match the escalating prices of rents and property values in the urban cores and near-suburbs or where households wish to retain a larger proportion of income for non-housing expenditure or saving. Often these tracts are the legally mandated provisions of affordable housing which accompany more upscale and lucrative developments of gated communities and new towns. Whatever the scenario, developers of cheap housing at urban edges frequently cut and run after attaining a particular percentage of sales, leaving households holding bank mortgages in developments whose infrastructure and services rapidly fall apart.
Municipalities responsible for the territory attempt to make as little investment as possible. At great distances from work and ill served by public transportation, households are relegated to protracted periods of waiting. For not only have their acquisitions been premised on attaining affordable housing but by the conviction that their decisions to locate themselves far from the urban core would eventually, in the not-distant future, be rewarded by the city catching up to them and the concomitant appreciation of land value that process would entail.
Indeed, the filling-in of the interstices often does take place, rarely as fast as residents had calculated, but in the interim the waiting has produced corroding built environments, which fast lost their gleam and instead become slums. While solidarities among residents are often cultivated in face of the absconding of developers and indifferent municipalities, there often is just simply too little in terms of resources and time to work with in order to build the heterogeneous built environments and social economies that often characterized previous and similar minimal outlays of housing and infrastructure in other parts of the city.
In locational decisions largely premised on the anticipation that residents would find themselves eventually embedded in a rapidly urbanizing context that through which diverse articulations with the surrounds could be built, periods of protracted waiting usually entail a hesitation on the part of residents to make any major moves—in terms of upgrading, economic investment or the cultivation of social institutions. While the initial constructions are often so minimal as to require self-constructed extensions in order to make any kind of residence viable, most of these tracts will display little further adaptation or development. Many of these residents grew up in dynamic working and middle class urban core districts, which may have been proximate to slum areas, but never resided in slum conditions per se. The rapid deterioration of the built environment, often accompanied by drastic impingements of nature, reproduce the very conditions which most residents sought guarantees to avoid.
At the same time, those that wait often say that they are actually in the “central city” that has yet to catch up to them. And as this purported center has been cheaply built, often quickly collapses or returns to the bush, residents, nevertheless, continue to experience themselves at the “urban core”. What is interesting about the joke is that they don’t see their locational decisions as anticipatory of something at which they will be at the center of, but rather that their locational decisions set up the prospect of exposing them to the intensified force of the snowballing interactions of deals, spatial products, conflicts, aspirations, infrastructures and economies headed “their way”, and thus will radically change them as persons.
Regardless how much this might be interpreted as speculation, investment, affordability—these are indeed all at work—the “sense” is one of detaching themselves from already sedentary positions in the “actual” urban core to reposition themselves in the line of urbanity’s “full force”, even though they cannot point to exactly what that force of the urban is, or break it down into specific parts. But what if it doesn’t come; what if people realize they have made the wrong decision, where their investments quickly deteriorate in front of them? Many will try to regain a foothold in back in the urban core that they vacated. Stuck with long-term payments and limited opportunities for resale, how do residents maneuver their way across wider circuits of engagement and opportunity.
In some instances, the low-end developments, far from commerce and social amenities, cultivate strong lateral support ties among residents and intensify the exchange and pooling of information about what is taking place in the larger region. Importantly, the demand for cheap accommodation close to the center—including the need to circumvent gridlocked Jakarta thoroughfares—and the need for residents of the urban core to generate supplementary value to cover escalating property taxation combines to produce a large volume of short-term accommodation through which many residents, ensconced or raised in the peripheries, now circulate. So there are the proliferation of relays between the urban core and near-suburbs and the more peripheral areas. This is a process that makes population counts and density levels in much of central Jakarta difficult to ascertain, as a more mobile population circumvents registration and contractual relationships. The decreasing periods of average residential stays also coincides with a tendency, particularly for youth, to circulate through many different jobs across Jakarta. The game is to be at the right place at the right time, yet it is difficult to anticipate what these temporalities and spaces might be in regions of quickly assembled and disassembled consolidations and dispersals.

Vidal, Cecilia Alda, Kooy, Michelle and Rusca, Maria, UNESCO-IHE

Opening the black box: everyday operation of the urban water supply system in Lilongwe, Malawi


Cecila Alda Vidal, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education

Michelle Kooy, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education; Department of Governance and Inclusive Development, University of Amsterdam

Maria Rusca, UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education;

Extended Abstract

This paper illustrates the co-production of (sub)urban spaces and sub-standard water service provision in the city of Lilongwe, Malawi, in order to decenter conceptual understandings of (sub)urban infrastructures. Lilongwe's water supply infrastructure is characterized by a centralized network system which covers up to 78% of population in the urban area, but provides highly intermittent and irregular supply across urban space and between urban populations (Hadzovic Pihljak, 2014). The water company reports only an average of 18 hours of "continuous supply of potable water to over 60% of the customers in the distribution system" (LWB, 2012, p. 16) with less affluent suburban areas on the periphery of the city facing higher rates of supply intermittency or non-service than the affluent urban core.

The lack of reliability (in terms of continuity and pressure) of Lilongwe’s water supply has a marked infrastructural characteristic. There is sufficient available water at the source (Kamuzu I and II dams) but the storage and distribution systems in the city are not capable of providing enough water, especially during the dry season when demand of water grows. The gap between water production and system demand is calculated as at least 14.000,00 m3/day (ibid). The uneven quality of water services is currently “told from the safe place of engineering and technical knowledge” (Filion & Keil, 2015, p. 6), and rationalized as a technical problem: users located closer to the node of supply present better conditions than the one situated at the end of the infrastructure or in low-pressure zones (Lee & Schwab, 2005; Vairavamoorthy, Gorantiwar, & Pathirana, 2008). This ''rendering technical'' of the city's water supply helps to obscure the political elements that are located at the core of the design, operation and maintenance of infrastructure (Filion & Keil, 2015; McFarlane & Rutherford, 2008).

We seek to disrupt this narrative for Lilongwe and open up the ''black box'' of water infrastructure, documenting how political and technical elements interact to produce uneven distribution of water along the network system and across the city. We identify how the city's water infrastructure and its operation contributes to the delineation of segregated of urban spaces (i.e. urban core and suburban periphery) and the reinforcement of existing social inequalities between different inhabitants of the city.

We do this through an infrastructural ethnography, documenting the ways in which everyday decisions and practices of engineers, utility managers, and water users change flows of water throughout the city.

In a context characterized by technical uncertainty, continuous improvisation, and constant malfunctioning and disrepair, pumps, tanks, valves, and pipes are subjected to operational decision and manipulation on daily basis allowing specific users and areas of the city to evade supply discontinuity problems. Identifying where decisions are made, how, by whom, and why, we reveal the political elements that are located at the core of the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure. We find that the prioritization or neglect of specific users and locations is driven not only by the ability of different users to claim better services but also by the water utility employee’s understandings of how (society and) infrastructure should work and what (sub)urban spaces have more priority. We trace how characterizations of (sub)urban spaces determine the type of infrastructure and quality of the service provided by it and in turn the types of water infrastructures in urban spaces shapes their classification. The result is an informal standard operating procedure which exacerbates water access problems in high density, low income, (sub)urban areas.

Through this ethnography of everyday practices, we also reveal the contingency and flexibility of what are often seen (from a Northern perspective) as fixed, stable, buried infrastructures (Furlong, 2010, 2014). Our contribution to the workshop theme is therefore also conceptual. Specifically, we aim to destabilize three sets of binaries which impede our understanding of access to water infrastructure in the gobal South. First, we trouble the fixed distinction between urban and sub-urban, documenting how areas in the city boundaries can be "made" sub-urban via everyday practices of water supply engineers. Second, we seek to unsettle established binaries of connected/non-connected used to describe access to infrastructure, illustrating instead the high degree of differentiation in access within the networked system. Third, we upset the distinction between soft vs. hard infrastructure by documenting the ways in which seemingly fixed infrastructure systems are manipulated through everyday practices.

Our account of Lilongwe’s water network therefore challenges (northern) assumptions of infrastructure as universal, obdurate, stable, and black-boxed showing instead a highly malleable, dynamic and contested water infrastructure. It highlights the role of everyday decisions and practices (Anand, 2011, 2012; Hossain, 2011; Lawhon, Ernstson, & Silver, 2014) to break with the focus in infrastructure as the result of large scale decision making processes by high level actors. In the case of Lilongwe, decision making over the operation of infrastructure is not the exclusive realm of technical knowledge and experts, the water utility staff and users with different levels of power interact to manipulate (and negotiate the manipulation) of the technical elements of the network in different ways to achieve different supply scenarios.

Anand, N. (2011). Pressure: The PoliTechnics of Water Supply in Mumbai. Cultural Anthropology, 26(4), 542–564. doi:10.1111/j.1548-1360.2011.01111.x

Anand, N. (2012). Municipal disconnect: On abject water and its urban infrastructures. Ethnography, 13(4), 487–509. doi:10.1177/1466138111435743

Filion, P., & Keil, R. (2015). The Contested and Unpredictable Nature of Suburban Infrastructures (pp. 1–28).

Furlong, K. (2010). Small technologies, big change: Rethinking infrastructure trhough STS and geography. Progress in Human Geography, 35(4), 460–482.

Furlong, K. (2014). STS beyond the “modern infrastructural ideal”: extending theory by engaging with infrastructure challenges in the south. Technology in Society, 38, 139–147.

Hadzovic Pihljak, L. (2014). Water Pricing Regimes and Production of Urban Waterscape. MSc Thesis. UNESCO-IHE.

Hossain, S. (2011). Informal dynamics of a public utility: Rationality of the scene behind a screen. Habitat International, 35(2), 275–285. doi:10.1016/j.habitatint.2010.09.003

Lawhon, M., Ernstson, H., & Silver, J. (2014). Provincializing Urban Political Ecology: Towards a Situated UPE Through African Urbanism. Antipode, 46(2), 497–516. doi:10.1111/anti.12051

Lee, E. J., & Schwab, K. J. (2005). Deficiencies in drinking water distribution systems in developing countries. Journal of Water and Health, 3(2), 109–27. Retrieved from

McFarlane, C., & Rutherford, J. (2008). Political Infrastructures: Governing and Experiencing the Fabric of the City. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 32(2), 363–374. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2427.2008.00792.x

Totsuka, N., Trifunovic, N., & Vairavamoorthy, K. (2004). Intermittent urban water supply under water starving situations. In 30th WEDC International Conference, Vientiane, Lao PDR (pp. 505–512).

Vairavamoorthy, K., Gorantiwar, S. D., & Pathirana, A. (2008). Managing urban water supplies in developing countries – Climate change and water scarcity scenarios. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 33(5), 330–339. doi:10.1016/j.pce.2008.02.008

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