no. 52, June 2019


edited by Andrea Pavoni & Alex Wafer


The planned city of the twentieth century is imagined as the domain of the solid, the settled and the dry. Yet the actual cities in which the majority of the world populations live are fundamentally fluid, flowing, and wet. While lately urban studies have not been short of watery metaphors to describe the contemporary urban condition as fluid and liquid, it is hard, beyond metaphor, to imagine how cities could exist at all without the liquid flows that traverse them, from the macro-flows of rivers and canals, water-pipes and sewers; to the micro-flows of coffee and beer, taps and WC.

Urban life is intimately dependent on the capacity to manage, tame and regulate flows – and preventing overflows. Cities are built on the blocking, channelling, bridging, bottling, drinking, flushing, depurating and sculpting of liquids. More recent engagements with the city of the global South have conversely explored how the networked infrastructures of the ‘formal’ city leak and bleed outside of the ordered frames within which the planned city might originally have been imagined. Writing on urban floods, Appadurai and Breckenridge have proposed to develop a “wet theory”: that is, ‘a way of building explanations and models which accommodates flux, flow and other boundary-blurring phenomena’ (2009: ix). Following this suggestion, in this themed issue we seek contributions that explore the flows – and overflows – of the city’s liquid-scapes.

At the macro-scale this may include, inter alia, considerations of the institutional and legal frameworks which draw symbolic and physical boundaries between the dry and the wet, land and water, the drinkable and the poisonous. Also, it may concern reflections on the ways in which the city is actually stitched together or pulled apart by the material flows of liquids, in the form of physical infrastructures such as pipes, canals and sewers – infrastructures which we assume are hidden in the contemporary city but which all too often leak, surface, and contaminate. Especially in the face of rapidly changing environmental conditions, these socially-produced networks are increasingly pushed to their limits by uncontainable and unpredictable natural cycles such as floods and droughts, which severely question the possibility of sustainable urban futures.

At the micro-scale this may include considerations of the more intimate flows of liquid in the city, in the forms of water, coffee, tea, alcohol, energy-drinks, or urine. Often shaped by colonial and capitalist relations, these flows organise urban sociality by producing geographies and rhythms of conviviality, leisure, intoxication and embodied comfort and comportment. While this may be considered through the lens of public health, we are particularly interested in ethnographies which explore the different spatialities and temporalities of these micro-flows.

In this themed issue we invite authors from different fields that are willing to engage with urban liquids by exploring how their micro- and macro-flows, and their leakages and spillages – whether through storm-drains, leaking pipes or bladders and bowels – shape the contemporary city. Contributions may offer new theoretical and conceptual languages to account for the liquid city and the excessive agency of urban liquids, by speaking variously to the leaking, flooding, spilling, saturation and quenching of the urban liquid-scapes, and exploring how cities are produced through and constituted by the regulation and overflow of their liquids at both macro and micro scales.



Appadurai, Arjun and Carol A. Breckenridge, foreword to Soak. Mumbai in an Estuary, edited by Anuradha Mathur and Dipip da Cunha (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2009)



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| Deadline for submissions | 15 March 2019

| Text length | 2,000 words

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