Lisbon water regimes: Politics, environment, technology and capital (1850-2010)

Urban Water in Europe and North America: Origins and Developments
By Tiago Saraiva, Luísa Schmidt, João Pato

This paper takes the case of Lisbon to explore four different water management regimes – liberal, republican, fascist, and democratic – defined by distinctive historical combinations of politics, environment, technology, and capital.
Building on proposals from urban political ecology, it argues that water should be seen as constitutive of the political realm, instead of just considering its management and infrastructure as a reflection of the general political context. The water sector defined in important ways what those political regimes were about: liberalism and private companies with close relations to the state, pushing to convert Lisbon residents into consumers; republicanism and the emergence in the public space of mass protest and biomedical power; fascism and the juxtaposition of private capital and state authoritarianism; democracy and universal access to infrastructure entangled with European Union bureaucracy.
We suggest that each water regime corresponds to a nonpredetermined arrangement that escapes traditional deterministic accounts of urban water supply such as the linear sequence of pre-modern systems, the networked modern city, and post material values. The cityscape is understood as a palimpsest in which new layers of historical complexity are added to previous historical dynamics without total erasing of the latter.

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