Planning the urban futures of a small city and its rural past: Governance and water infrastructures in Tiruppur, India

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This dissertation examines the governance of water infrastructure in the face of water scarcity amidst rapid economic, demographic, and spatial expansion in Tiruppur, a small industrial city known for its knitwear exports in Tamil Nadu, India. Using a range of methods, including research in municipal, state, and industry archives, ethnography, and participatory action research, a richly detailed account of a hybrid waterscape is presented. This account follows the flows of water in the stages of infrastructure production, operation, and use across Tiruppur’s urban core and recently merged rural peripheries over time, and carefully traces the complex ways in which the state and multiple publics interact to produce and address differentiated experiences of water scarcity. The dissertation also interrogates how scale shapes state-society interactions and planning outcomes, where scale is defined as a combination of city size, secondary position in administrative hierarchies, and limited political-economic reach. The analysis of planning as governance is articulated in dialogue with literatures on public-private partnerships, the material politics of infrastructure, the politics of collective consumption, and political dynamics of access in hybrid waterscapes. In Tiruppur, elite publics, including local capitalists from the Gounder caste, organize through overlapping caste and business networks to partner with higher tiers of the state to produce water infrastructures and planning projects that serve their visions for Tiruppur as an export-oriented growth machine while providing them with unparalleled access to water. City level bureaucrats and planners are constrained by infrastructural and administrative norms governing water access that emerge from the city’s small scale and rural past, leading them to improvise by providing water through a range of non-piped sources. This, and the work of street-level bureaucrats, the “watermen,” who operationalize everyday water distribution, help produce Tiruppur’s hybrid waterscape. In contrast, non-elite publics who bear the unequal burdens of water scarcity in this hybrid waterscape are unable to organize and contest inequalities in access. In part, this is because their water access and experiences of scarcity are fragmented, shaped as they are by a finely differentiated socio-spatial structure produced by industrial restructuring in Tiruppur, which makes establishing stable material connections to the state difficult. The collective quiescence contributes to persistent, entrenched inequalities in water access despite successive, incremental expansions to municipal piped water infrastructures. Through the case of Tiruppur, this dissertation, thus, demonstrates that planners seeking to expand equitable access and ensure just, water-secure urban futures in rapidly growing small cities must be prepared to address particular socio-material legacies and attend to specific state-society dynamics that underlie governance.

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339 pages


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India; Rural-Urban transitions; Small cities; State-society relations; Water infrastructures; Water scarcity


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Union Local


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Kudva, Neema

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Committee Member

Warner, Mildred E.
Leonard, Lori

Degree Discipline

City and Regional Planning

Degree Name

Ph. D., City and Regional Planning

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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