Draining the Infinite Metropolis: Engineering and the Banality of Disaster in Mexico City


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




Mexico City floods constantly, but these routine, localized floods receive scant media attention, stir little resistance, and garner minimal public investment in drainage infrastructures, even as the city continues to expand. To understand this paradox, this project draws on nearly two years of ethnographic and archival research focused on the city’s massive drainage system. Following city engineers, maintenance workers, and residents from command centers to the flooded urban periphery, this project reveals how the ostensible banality of flooding is an effect of engineering work itself. Through the design and operation of the city’s drainage system, engineers render flooding both an object of engineering control and a mundane problem of everyday life for the marginalized. By dragging out disasters in space and time and asserting control over an uncertain environment, engineers make continued urbanization both materially possible and imaginable even in a time of rapid environmental decay and increasing austerity.