Stephanie Bishop: Zambian Water Diaries: Technology in Practice

PhD-project in African Studies, University of Basel

This thesis considers the intersection of technology, water, and gender in Lusaka, Zambia, to develop a relational understanding of water as a socializing and socialized agent in African urban settings.
Water infrastructure in Zambia is very uneven. On the same street in Garden Compound, Lusaka, you'll find women with unlimited water piped to their yards, and women who walk to buy water from a neighborhood kiosk that is only open a few hours each day.

Water Technologies in Zambia

Zambia’s waterscape is marked by difference. Even as urban water access rates have improved in recent years, evidence points toward a reduced quality of water access as a higher percentage of urban residents have become dependent on public taps, wells and boreholes. Neighbours may participate in the waterscape in markedly different ways, with quite different technologies--or the absence of technology--framing their water consumption. Water technologies are embedded in daily experience, and they do more than just provide access to clean, safe drinks. Water technologies arise from and shape cultural and social conventions, too.
What difference does it make if a person accesses water from a Kiosk, an un-metered tap, a metered tap, a pre-paid tap, a tap with an automatic shut-o valve, or her neighbor’s shallow well? What role do these technological artefacts take in shaping expectations and relationships in Lusaka?

Towards a Relational Understanding of Water

Feminist Standpoint Theory emphasizes the gendered division of labor and the variety of “situated knowledges” that are produced through socio-natural relationships.
Women do much of the everyday work needed to provide an urban household with water, whether that means collecting water, paying water bills, or trying to get a household reconnected to water. Through these every-day activities, women have particular situated knowledges of the water (and water politics) in their cities.
They see the waterscape from a unique position, and this is valuable for epistemologies of human activity around water; for understanding the importance of struggle in the “active process of constructing alternative forms of knowledge”; and for exploring alternative futures (Loftus 2007).
You'll find those with water meters, and those drawing water from shallow, unsafe wells. All this variety in the waterscape is set against almost two decades of water reform in Zambia, where new laws and new technical solutions are changing what it means to use water in Lusaka.



Supervisors: Prof. E. Macamo
Nancy Rose Hunt (Universitty of Michigan, USA)
Jeremy Gould (University of Jyväskylä, Finland)

Funding: Humer Foundation

Duration: 2011-2014

Download Poster: Zambian Water Diaries (2012)

Research Group: Technological Artefacts in Urban African Settings

Links: Stephanie Bishop Profile