Nikhil Anand

Assistant Professor, AnthropologyUniversity of Pennsylvania

Award Information

2007 IDRF Program

AnthropologyStanford University

The Social Life of Water: The Limits of the Commodity and its Neoliberal State

Why is it so difficult to privatize water distribution in India? Through ethnographic research among two water poor communities in Mumbai India, this research will examine why public water works projects proliferate in India even as state policies profess a commitment to neoliberalism. When operationalized in postcolonial states that do not have a history of substantive citizen rights, the effects of neoliberal policies are as yet unknown. Ethnographic attention to how the poor access water in Mumbai complicates the distinctions of the public and private, long central to political economy. Through participant observation among the urban poor, institutional ethnography and archival study, this research seeks to understand the boundaries of citizenship and markets in the neoliberal state. First, by following how the poor access water, I hope to show how formal citizenship articulates with other kinds of political claims among the urban poor. Second, I am interested learning why water is difficult to commoditize when other basic needs (like food) are distributed through market mechanisms. What do these difficulties reveal about commodification itself? An attention to the social life of water could reveal new insights into the contingency of citizenship and the limits of neoliberal projects.