Axel Springer Lecture
Hydraulic Citizenship: Water Management and Political Agency after Hurricane Harvey
From 2015 to 2017, the city of Houston was struck by three “500-year-flood” events, including Hurricane Harvey. In this talk, Dominic Boyer explores how Houstonians reacted to this wave of catastrophic flooding and how it impacted their emotional and epistemic attachments to their homes, neighborhoods, and to the city itself. Starting from what anthropologist Nikhil Anand has called “hydraulic citizenship”—political subjectivity oriented to water management—Boyer addresses political subjectivity as it relates specifically to floodwater management. He shows that Houston, because of its history of flooding, has grown into a vibrant zone of hydraulic citizenship. Yet the distribution of this civic engagement is uneven, split along class and racial geographies, mostly concentrated in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. And where hydraulic citizenship prevails, a modern conceit follows: attempts to control natural systems through technical expertise and engineering. Might a differently conceived hydraulic citizenship help save Houston from its dire climatological future?