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Waterworks: labour, infrastructure and the making of urban water in Mexico City

De Coss Corzo, Julio Alejandro (2019) Waterworks: labour, infrastructure and the making of urban water in Mexico City. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This dissertation explores the role of human labour in managing, maintaining and repairing infrastructures on the everyday, and how these current practices relate to the interlinked histories of labour and infrastructure. Namely, it focuses on how manual workers within the Mexico City Water System (SACMEX) carry out their daily tasks, and how these are crucial for the networked grid, the public utility and state power over hydraulic resources to endure. I highlight how an array of labour practices entail diverse forms of improvisation, creativity and adaptation, learned through collective, long-standing engagements with infrastructures. I show that these labour practices are necessary for infrastructure to adapt to socio-material changes, for SACMEX as an institution to retain its grasp on these infrastructures and on the water that flows through them, and for state power to be maintained amidst deepening austerity and ongoing material decay. Drawing upon literatures that analyse these entanglements from different perspectives, including critical political ecology, object-oriented approaches and Southern urbanism, I make a distinct contribution by theorising the role that informal, improvisational and adaptive human labour has in formal infrastructural systems. This has far reaching consequences not only for how we understand the endurance of these networks, including their material and institutional workings, but also for how we conceptualise the specificity of human work amidst theorisations of a post-human world. Methodologically, I draw upon participant observation carried out with workers at SACMEX over the course of one year, developing concepts and explanations based both on my analyses after the field and on the ways in which workers themselves described and defined their own labour. Whilst the analysis of these waterworks is firmly rooted on the geographical and historical particularities of Mexico City, it can provide descriptions, concepts, and methodological and analytical strategies useful to explore and theorise how labour and infrastructure shape each other and the cities we inhabit.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Julio Alejandro De Coss Corzo
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Savage, Mike and Zeiderman, Austin

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