Precarious Pipes: Governance, Informality, and the Politics of Access in Karachi


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships


Political Science


This dissertation focuses on water access as a critical lens to study wider processes of urban stasis and transformation in Pakistan. Popular and scholarly discourses warn that an escalating water crisis in Karachi, one of the world’s largest, most conflict-prone cities, will soon cause widespread violence. But, despite its chronically dry pipes, the “city of lights” remains Pakistan’s cultural and economic hub. This dissertation begins by tracing how rationalities of urban governance have historically produced uncertain water access for the city’s urban poor. It then turns attention to everyday, lived experiences of water access to shed light on the social and material practices that emerge and consequently shape possibilities for violence in such a context. Combining these levels of analysis, “Precarious Pipes” demonstrates how supposedly “weak” states employ evolving logics of rule in times of scarcity and how city-dwellers receive and engage with the structures that seek to govern them.