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How should we approach living infrastructures?

Following on from the previous post, I wanted to think a little more about what general conclusions are warranted. Some short points, keeping in mind Donna Haraway’s insistence on “grappling with, rather than generalising from, the ordinary” (Haraway, 2008: 3).

On a very abstract level, two possibilities stand out. 

From the perspective of Eric Swyngedouw, David Harvey etc perhaps constructed wetlands and their ilk are simply ‘fixes’ for certain unjust and unsustainable social arrangements. The ‘nature-based’ fix joins the spatial fix and the commons fix as ways that late-liberal capitalist orders are sustained, and (in the case of India) governmentalities of development are stabilised. This reading certainly aligns with the examples presented by Wakefield and Zhang. 

On the other hand, inspired by Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing, we might ask hopefully how lively infrastructures could be part of landscapes of more-than-human flourishing.

We can see traces of both possibilities in the ways that ‘nature’ or other living beings are approached across the spectrum of water studies. 

Nature is being instrumentalised through the concept of ecosystem services, and all of the neoliberal abstraction that comes along with it. Catchment areas become tradeable/monetised for their flood control or water pollution services. 

Yet, within river politics, protecting the lively capacities of rivers is the motivating logic of environmental flows. In determining these flows the specificities of various kinds of aquatic life must be understood. And, as I saw during my masters research, such approaches are increasingly considering the importance of flow patterns not just on river ecology but the broader social ecology around rivers.

A river and an engineered water treatment infrastructure are not opposites, one natural and one social. Both are technonatures in which more-than-human relations require acknowledgement and negotiation. It’s my hope that the use of living infrastructures can be taken beyond safeguarding unsustainable modes of living, to instead be part of more flourishing arrangements for all species involved.