Imperial water, urban crisis: A political ecology of colonial state formation in Bombay, 1850-1890

Sapana Doshi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Processes of globalized urbanization and ecological crises that haunt cities around the world today are strongly reminiscent of sanitary politics of late nineteenth-century colonial cilics. This aruclc explores this critical moment in the history of Bombay, when British colonial imperatives of resource extraction depended on the resolution of ecological and political crises relating to urban water supply. Water provides a lens for revealing the often contentious and unstable politics of urbanization and colonial state formation. The article addresses four key aspects of what I call an "imperial urban water complex." It begins with an investigation into ethno-racial class formation in relation to the colonial, political economics of cotton, urban real estate, and textiles in the port city. Next is a focus on the socio-5patial development of Bombay's built environment, a set of processes that accelerated an ecological crisis of water supply and sanitation. The third segment examines the colonial and technorational discourses and state practices accompanying development of a modem, centralized water supply system. The article ends with an analysis of the role of water and sanitary politics in local state formation processes, with a focus on the development of new government institutions and the concomitant tensions around colonial rule, taxation, and representation. The article argues that resolving the urban water crisis through establishing new forms of rule was the key to securing ongoing and hegemonic capitalist production and social reproduction in colonial, western India. However, these processes were often tumultuous and highly contested; the racialized social and economic contradictions of empire that surfaced during the development of water infrastructure created critical political fault lines that sometimes threatened the twin projects of capital accumulation and colonial hegemony. This research offers an urban<cntcrcd contribution to the literatures of environmental history, world ecology, and colonial political economy and rule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-218
Number of pages46
JournalReview (United States)
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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