Accepted paper:

Urban legends in an African waterscape


Stephanie Bishop (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

This paper makes the case for challenging water policy normativity through diary-based research on urban water practices in Lusaka, Zambia.

Paper long abstract:

What factors converge to create water traditions in an urban and peri-urban waterscape like Lusaka? This paper makes the case that water policy for urban Africa is rooted in a myth that privileges particular epistemologies of water. In this tradition of thinking about water, water scarcity and safety are key motifs framing what we know about urban water in Africa. But, research methods which focus on daily, local water practices invite us to think outside this old story and see it perhaps for what it is: a (global) legend, woven of some truth and some fiction, and not nearly as interesting as people's normal lives. This paper is based on an empirical study in Lusaka, Zambia, where I used water diaries to "make the invisible visible"—a key priority for researching everyday life. The paper speaks to the benefits and strengths of diaries as an empirical approach for researching the waterscape, with implications for more than just water policy in Zambia or Africa: it demonstrates how local knowledge can challenge the normativity of policy-making frameworks everywhere.

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The changing time and rhythms of water