Cairo ecologies : water in social and material cycles




Farmer, Tessa Rose

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This dissertation investigates the ways in which the natural and the social overlap in the symbolic center of human activity, cities. Cities are full of living organisms, existing not in a perfect state of equilibrium but rather in states of constant flux. The cycles of life moving through the city of Cairo, Egypt are dependent on water as a vital component and scarce resource in systems of biological exchange, as well as one among many pieces of infrastructure that the city requires to survive. This dissertation looks at the informal systems that residents of a squatter settlement in Cairo, Egypt called Ezbet Khairallah have created to make life possible, as well as their attempts to get the state to formally provide these services; work that is done at collective scales and in everyday practices. The dissertation also looks at what happens when areas such as Ezba are successful in getting the state to recognize them and institutionalize utility services, what the hidden costs and unintended consequences are of becoming formal end users of state systems. The dissertation provides an overview of the forces at work in shaping Cairo, highlighting the rural to urban migration patterns and shifting urban policy over the course of the 20th century that have funneled so many into informal housing settlements. In addition, the dissertation highlights the particular material history of Ezbet Khairallah, and how that has shaped the social and material circumstances of residents. It examines the material and affective implications of being unable to escape waste, of bodies that bear signs of systems that both make life possible and make life difficult. By studying the institutional framework in which these questions get worked out in Egypt, we can better situate the struggles of those living in the urban margins of the global south, such as those in Ezbet Khairallah.




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