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Everyday States and Water Infrastructure: Insights from a Small Secondary City in Africa, Bafatá in Guinea-Bissau


Year published: 2021
Categories: Articles

Author / Authors:

  • Alves, Susana Neves


Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 39, no. 2 (March 2021): 247–64. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654419875748.


A rich body of work on everyday governance and urban infrastructure has produced nuanced understandings of the situated power relations and manifold practices shaping urban infrastructure in diverse cities. However, there is little research focusing on the practices and relations of state actors, and examining how these might shape different infrastructural configurations and relate to broader processes of state formation. This is particularly the case for secondary cities in Africa. This article draws on anthropological explorations of the state and debates on local ownership in aid to examine how state practices and relations have shaped water infrastructure in a small secondary city (Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau), and how the state is constituted in this process. Based on extensive ethnographic work, this research demonstrates that in a context of aid dependency, state influence is necessarily constituted through its relations with non-state organisations. Formal state presence therefore depends on the subtle and erratic recognition bestowed on the state by non-state organisations. However, local state actors continue to shape water provision in Bafatá in fundamental ways not through following policy and regulatory frameworks, but through their (informal) decisions, practices and interactions with non-state organisations. Overall, it is argued that anthropological explorations of states open our analytical lens to the mundane ways in which states shape different types of urban infrastructure, and the ways these practices relate to broader processes of state formation, particularly in context where states appear elusive.


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