Drinking water quality assemblages: Scale, temporality and flexibility in Kaolack, Senegal

Elizabeth A. MacAfee
Faculty of Landscape and Society, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Ås, Norway; Department of Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands; elizabeth.macafee@ru.nl

ABSTRACT: In this article, I argue that drinking water quality is a sociomaterial phenomenon with scale and temporality; I argue further that the way in which actors in urban environments influence drinking water quality affects how people access water and the degree to which they are exposed to drinking-water–related hazards. Understanding the complexity of the multiple possible impacts on drinking water quality requires attentiveness to the heterogeneous social, political and technical relations that together constitute a 'drinking water quality assemblage'. Different problematisations of drinking water quality can also contribute to the emergence of multiple contested assemblages. Using a qualitative case study developed over eight months in Senegal including interviews, participation, observation and document review, I explore coexisting assemblages of drinking water quality in Kaolack, Senegal. I categorise the assemblages as state, implementer, provider and consumer. These vary in the degree to which each assemblage is flexible or rigid: they also exhibit differences in the scales and temporalities of concern for drinking water quality problems. I argue that this theorisation of drinking water quality relates better to the dynamic and multiple materiality of water and water quality than do the static and inflexible technical definitions that are more commonly found in policy and planning documents.

KEYWORDS: Drinking water quality, assemblage theory, urban water, Senegal