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Political Ecology and Relational Marxism: offering a third way of analysis into the (co)production of the South African

waterscape

Suraya Fazel-Ellahi

PhD Student Department of Geography University of Manchester, UK

Table of Contents

1.0. Water scarcity and the privatisation debate ............................................................ 4 1.1. A brief historical tracing of the contested emergence of the South African waterscape .................................................................................................................. 8 1.1.1. Encircling the privatisation debate in the contemporary waterscape......... 10 1.2. An exercise in re-envisioning: Moving toward a third way of analysis ........... 14 2.0. Re-inserting the political into examining Socio-Natural relations ....................... 16 2.1. Marxist Historical Materialism as a Relational Ontology ................................ 18 2.1.1. The Basic Tenets of Relational Marxism................................................... 18 2.1.2. Advances in Relational Marxism ............................................................... 20 2.1.3. The Influence of Marxs Dialectical Method on this Relational Branch of Historical Materialism ......................................................................................... 21 2.2. Urban Political Ecology as rooted in a Marxist Relational Ontology .............. 23 2.2.1. Central Contributions of Urban Political Ecology ..................................... 24 2.3. Challenges to Historical Materialist Analysis................................................... 27 2.3.1. Moving beyond Anthropocentricism ......................................................... 27 2.3.2. Economic determinism in conceptualising power relations and change ... 28 2.3.3. The relational sufficiency of the Dialectic ................................................. 29 3.0. Mobilising an ethnography of actor relations and power to make sense of South African water flow ....................................................................................................... 29

Abstract

In light of what is understood as a stalemate in the privatisation debate framing water delivery, this paper suggests a third way of analysis to make sense of the coproduction of the South African waterscape. This third way draws on urban political ecology, with the roots of the project traced to a relational ontology, predominantly a relational Marxism. This approach is concerned with shifting the focus into the domain of the proper political, by challenging a dualistic conception of society nature relations and re-inserting the political into analysis of these relations, as they unfold within contemporary capitalist society. It is argued that in adopting this third way of analysis it will be possible to escape the narrow confines of the privatisation debate, by focusing instead on how the material flow of water is determined by more than the hydrological cycle, but also directed by wider practices, institutions (public, private or a hybridised form) and unfolding political processes, consequently bringing into question naturalised understandings of water access, scarcity, and pollution as dimensions of the water crisis. Instead, such a framework, points to the necessity of excavating the power geometries in the underlying processes which shape the emergent waterscape (irrespective of whether the actors are public or private). Such an analysis also provides a means to move beyond apolitical and a-historical representations of the problem and to conceive of alternatives beyond technical and managerial fixes.

1.0. Water scarcity and the privatisation debate


The collective consciousness of the spectre of global environmental threats has reached a historically unprecedented scale, assuming an increased urgency within public discourse as well as in political debate, and framed as a global ecological crisis. These ecological crises evidenced in desertification, global climate change, deforestation, water scarcity, pollution and natural disasters, including extreme weather events such as floods, tsunamis and droughts - are increasingly represented as commonly shared threats that need to be overcome through the actions of a collective humanity. This framing of the problem as contained in an objectified form serves to shift the focus toward addressing the Thing in itself, with the answer to be found in institutional, managerial and technological fixes (Murray, 2009; Swyngedouw, 2010).

In the case of water, the United Nations third World Water Development Report (2009) describes the crisis as regional water management crises which are emerging in most parts of the world in divergent forms, as water shortages and droughts, floods or both, now aggravated by the consequences of climate change (World Water Development Report, 2009:13). The crisis can broadly be understood as a scarcity in relation to demand and the degradation/pollution of global water resources (Bakker, 2010; World Water Development Report, 2009). According to the United Nations an estimated 884 million people lack access to safe drinking water and a total of more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation. Every year in developing countries an estimated 3 million people die prematurely from waterrelated diseases. The largest proportion of these deaths are among infants and young children, followed by women, from poor rural families who lack access to safe water and improved sanitation. (United Nations, 2010). These figures on the state of the world water crisis and its consequences, point to the urgency of solutions to address experiences of material water scarcity.

In response, the predominant solutions have encircled transformations in water governance agents, practices and instruments. In particular, beginning in earnest since the 1980s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have actively supported the enrolment of the private sector in the provision of water supply services in low

and middle income countries. This advocacy of the private sector has been reinforced firstly through pointing to the failure of governments and aid agencies to achieve universal water supply (Swyngedouw, 2003; Bakker, 2007); and secondly through a naturalisation and celebration of market forces and private ownership (Swyngedouw, 2003). Within this context, some of the water corporations emerged among the worlds largest multinationals, epitomising the rapid growth of private, for-profit activity in sectors previously dominated by governments (Bakker, 2010:214).

However the advocacy of the private sector in water provision has not gone unchallenged and in the last decades has engendered an increasingly polarised privatisation debate, pivoting on the role of the state and private companies as owners, managers and providers of water supply services, and framed within a discourse of water scarcity and degradation. On the one hand, proponents of privatisation, argue that the market is the panacea for social and ecological crisis, including the problems of the water sector, which cannot be addressed by the inadequate and inefficient practices of the state. On the other hand, opponents of this position, reject any role for the private sector in the provision of water supply services, arguing instead that the rhetoric of management efficiency and water conservation through the treatment of water as an economic good, are an elaborate ruse for the theft of water from the public domain, for the generation of profit. In this case the state has been promoted as the preferable agent of delivery. However, it is argued that a framing of the debate, which represents the public and private sectors as opposing agents of delivery, is narrowly conceived and functions to contain the envisaged solutions by limiting the framing of the problem and consequently silencing the potential for real transformative alternatives. This argument is supported by a deeper reading of state and private sector roles and relations as follows.

Firstly both the public and private sectors have not succeeded in adequately addressing environmental concerns and have systematically failed to extend water supply networks to the urban and rural poor. Secondly although the two sectors differ in key respects, they also share significant overlaps in the water supply approach, defining water as a resource, to be put to instrumental use by humans, via centralised, standardised hydraulic technology, in a drive for maximisation (whether of water supply or profits), on the basis of a hierarchical management structure

predicated on technical expertise, which creates an atomised relationship between individual users and the network (Bakker, 2010:216). Thirdly, following the initial increase in water privatisation, the last few years has in fact witnessed a retreat by capital, as it has encountered difficulties in profiting from privatization, particularly within the global South where contracts commit companies to high levels of longterm investment in fixed infrastructure while many of these investments are to be made in areas where the majority of the population subsist on incredibly low incomes (Loftus, 2009:957). As a result contracts have been renegotiated soon after they have been signed, many of the high profile contracts of the 1990s have now been abandoned, and the state and other forms of institutional organizations have been drawn back in to water governance. (Loftus, 2009:957). Therefore, within this context, the water sector has witnessed the apparent reinsertion of the public sector, prompting analysts to argue that one of the central myths concerning the advancement of market principles is the notion that it should necessarily be accompanied by the rolling back of state regulation (Swyngedouw, 2005: 89). In contrast, state involvement is central and essential in establishing a suitable regulatory environment, and supporting market principles in water delivery (Swyngedouw, 2005). This insight into the relations between the public and private sector has lead analysts to refer to the transformation of the sector, rather than its privatization (Bakker, 2003).

In light of the emergent stalemate in the public versus private debate, alternatives to these models have also been put forward, firstly through arguing for the treatment of water as a human right and secondly through locating water management within the commons 1 (Bakker, 2010). Beginning with the latter argument, the commons has emerged as a widely debated proposal to reforming property rights as a solution to the water crisis. While, this debate is in itself internally divided, and will not be unpacked here, what is significant is that it promotes a vision of water governance which involves cooperative community management, as an effective challenge to both the state and the private sector. While this vision represents a significant effort to move beyond the narrow confines of the privatisation debate, a central identified problem with this approach is that it imagines a utopian co-operative community and abandons the state as an instrument in encouraging redistributive models of resource
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With the activist form of common management understood as an inclusive mode of collective stewardship of shared resources (as one form of commons management)

management, progressive social relations, and environmental protection (Bakker, 2010: 221).

The second argument, concerned with promoting water as a human-right (Bond 2003a; Bond and Dugard, 2008; Bakker, 2010) has been mobilised as a major counter to water privatisation. Proponents argue that access to water is a material emblem of citizenship, a material symbol of inclusion (Murray, 2009; Bakker, 2010) and have campaigned extensively for the realisation of this right. Significantly, on July 28 2010, the United Nations General Assembly declared that safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a "human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights. The resolution is the first time that water has ever been fully recognized as a human right on a global stage, and has been celebrated as a victory for civil. However this declaration is apparently contradicted by the Dublin Principles of the United Nations International Conference of Water and the Environment held in 1992. The fourth Dublin Principle states that water has an economic value in all its competing uses and should be recognized as an economic good. It is the co-existence of such tensions that has lead analysts to question the capacity of the rights based discourse to serve as an effective counter to privatisation and to move the debate forward beyond the current identified constraints. It is significant, that despite the progressive notions, upon greater scrutiny the human rights approach emerges as limited in its capacity to effectively and fundamentally transform inequality in water distribution. This is because firstly the human right to water does not foreclose private property rights, secondly rights do not guarantee sufficient access as the legal/institutional framework can be constructed in a way that further restricts citizenship and inclusion, finally the framework is limiting in focusing on the right to drinking water as opposed to wider aspects of water resources, land and integrated ecological challenges.

In what follows, to illustrate how the contradictions and constraints of the privatisation debate, as outlined above, have assumed a real world, particular and contentious form the case of contemporary South Africa will be presented. Thereafter we will move to consider a third way of analysis which offers a route to move beyond the privatisation debate. It is suggested that urban political ecology (UPE) offers a means through which to make sense of the South African waterscape. An

outlining of UPE will begin with a tracing of the theoretical roots of this project, understood to be guided by a relational ontology. In the final section, we will return to the case of water in South Africa reflecting on the capacity of the framework to unlock the analytical limitations of the privatisation debate, offering an alternative lens to examining the politics of water flow in South Africa. In other words this section will consider the capacity of the framework to enable a reading of the waterscape as a co-constructed environment, emerging through specific historical geographical power struggles, as essentially political processes and outcomes, as opposed to natural. Secondly the paper will consider how insights emerging through empirical studies of the South African waterscape can be employed in renovating and reviving aspects of a relational ontology and political ecology. The aim of the paper is to suggest a route through which to re-envision, re-problematise, and re-politicise the water crisis so as to move closer to conceiving of solutions which can bring about real change.

1.1. A brief historical tracing of the contested emergence of the South African waterscape
As early as 1652, influenced by Dutch Law, the Dutch Company declared water a public good, giving the State the overall right to control the use of public water. However, this principle was replaced in the early 19th century through the introduction of the English riparian doctrine, thereby permitting the property owners the right to access and to make reasonable use of water from the river adjoining their property. It was only with the apartheid regime that the Afrikaner government challenged the English riparian doctrine and shifted the balance back toward state management of public water, through the Water Act of 1956, vesting in the Minister of the newly formed Department of Water Affairs a large measure of control over water affairs.

The Water Act of 1956 was significant on two counts regarding its influence on the materialised water environment. Firstly, while it (re)introduced the principle of government control over public water, the Act prioritised the interests of the commercial agricultural sector, mandating the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) to allocate water specifically for the development of the sector. This prioritisation was largely a political strategy, as a substantial percentage of the ruling National Partys

(NPs) support base were commercial farmers. Despite this degree of bias, the prevailing concern was with harmonising water regulations with the interests of all the economic heavyweights, including agriculture, mining and industry (Tewari, 2005:442). In recognising the role of the 1956 Act in codifying this effort, it is noteworthy that the alliance between State and commercial interests in informing water allocation had developed at a much earlier period in South African history. Most notably at the time of the discovery of gold in 1886 which led to the settlement of a large number of prospectors in the mining town of Johannesburg. This then lead to the establishment of the Rand Water Board in 1903 to satisfy demand for water supply and sanitation services in the greater Witwatersrand area (a low mountain range near Johannesburg), with the consequent legislation granting preferential water rights to mining operations (Funke at al., 2007; Turton et al., 2006).

The second point of influence of the 1956 Act, while shifting the balance back toward state management of public water, was the prioritisation of water provision to white South Africans. Within this Act white South Africans received near universal access to water and sanitation while non whites were deprived of these services. However, as with water provision to the commercial sector, this emphasis reflected a historical continuity in that the earlier riparian rights system, coupled with widespread colonial land accumulation, had already resulted in the production of inequitable resource access. However the apartheid government was notable for its explicit codification of racial segregation, extending into all apartheid era public service provision. Therefore the 1956 Act was part of the apartheid architecture supporting the development of racial enclaves defined by connection and disconnection to housing, electricity, public transport, employment opportunities and social welfare support.

The apartheid policy of segregation also meant that municipalities (white local authorities) were initially established in designated white areas, and only in 1982 were Black Local Authorities (BLAs) introduced to manage service provision in Black urban townships. However, the BLAs had a limited tax base and virtually no powers and capacity to execute their mandate (Van Donk and Pieterse, 2006:108), leading to rent and service rate increases as their only source of revenue. It was the lack of urban services and increased rent and service rates that sparked township mobilisation and resistance, with strategies ranging from rent to consumer boycotts

and attacks on symbols of the apartheid system. These uprisings, initially repressed, spread to a national level by the 1990s (Van Donk and Pieterse, 2006:109), taking hold in the urban centres of South Africa, and has been widely acknowledged as a central force in undermining the apartheid machinery.

1.1.1. Encircling the privatisation debate in the contemporary waterscape


With service provision functioning historically both as an instrument in producing racial and material inequity and relationally as a central catalyst for resistance, the post apartheid state was faced the challenge of extending service provision to all South Africans as a part of achieving social equity and stability. In this regard, the infrastructural developments achieved have been widely praised. At the end of apartheid 12 million South Africans were without access to clean water and 21 million with inadequate access (Hagg & Emmett, 2003: 67; Kasrils, 2004; DWAF, 2005) 2. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) 3 has since achieved some notable successes. It is estimated that around 90% of South Africans now have access to a source of clean water, while the remaining 10% continues to access water from unsafe sources, such as streams, dams or wells (Butler, 2009). While the progress reflected in these figures is significant, the actual degree to which they have resulted in materially consequential transformations has been widely debated. Firstly, regarding the actual credibility of the delivery figures and the sustainability of the community water supply schemes, DWAF have been criticised for inflating delivery figures and underplaying the lack of sustainability of community water supply schemes (Hagg & Emmett, 2003). Accusations have been made that a large percentage of these schemes deliver irregularly or have dried up completely 4. However these accusations are difficult to verify as there is insufficient reliable information on these schemes (Hagg & Emmett, 2003). Secondly the statistics on access to water and sanitation services conceal the differences in the form of access which cut across class, race, gender and geographical boundaries. A third fundamental
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With over 14, 000 rural households dependent on rudimentary water sources such as rivers, wells and boreholes (Hagg & Emmett, 2003: 69). 3 Renamed the Department of Water Affairs in 2009 4 Wellman (1999) argued that over 50 per cent of the schemes were functioning inadequately, Hemson (2001) referred to a success rate of 33 per cent at RDP level, and Greenberg (2001) cited what he regarded as being misleading numbers provided by DWAF (Hagg & Emmett, 2003: 73).

challenge is the issue of affordability, as infrastructure alone does not guarantee access to water (Fil-Flynn, 2001; McDonald & Pape, 2002; Xali, 2002; Hagg & Emmett, 2003).

These tensions in infrastructure developments also appear in the contemporary water legislation, which emerges as something of a legislative hybrid concerned with achieving a universal basic supply, resource protection, and economic efficiency. The main water laws are the Water Services Act of 1997 and the National Water Act of 1998 5 which identify the government as the entity responsible for the sustainable management of water resources for the benefit of all in accordance with the constitution 6. Emphasising water as a scarce resource, the water laws reflect an effort to simultaneously treat water as a public good and to assign a commercial value to water (Tewari, 2005:442), holding that efficient allocation can only be achieved though market forces and true scarcities of water can only be reflected by price (Tewari, 2005: 444). In this sense, the water crisis in South Africa is being framed as a problem of impending water scarcity to be overcome by water pricing and building adaptive capacity. The payment for water services is supported by the claim that equitable allocation necessitates the economic valuation of a scarce resource. This perspective is illustrated in water related policy documents in all three spheres of government (national, provincial and local) and is supported in the environment literature examining the question of water and climate change adaptation (Ziervogel et al., 2010). In presenting the problem as water scarcity/insecurity, solutions are

increasingly being presented in the form of institutional, managerial and technological solutions (Ziervogel et al., 2010:95). Most notably water management has emerged as a blend of demand side management and conservation, and augmentation strategies (Tewari, 2005:444). This concern with water reconciliation identified as the necessary solution to the threat of scarcity is materialised in a number of practices including water leaks projects and the use of water demand management devices to control water use accompanied by costly large bulk infrastructure projects to ensure supply meets anticipated demand. The above dimensions of the water laws have
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Tewari, 2005; Funke at al., 2007; Brown, 2010; Ziervogel et al., 2010; Herrfahrdt-Paehle, 2010 However the Water Services Act and National Water Act have established a dual structure of water management and governance, with the responsibilities for drinking water supply and sanitation vested with the local government, while the management, protection and use of the water resources are the domain of the national government (DWA) (Herrfahrdt-Paehle, 2010).

generated a number of political fault lines, linked efforts to mediate these both materially and discursively, and engendered a debate concerned with the privatisation of the South African waterscape and its consequences in a highly unequal society. These will be briefly sketched before moving to consider the capacity of a third way of analysis, as a relational framework to support an examination of the production of the South African waterscape, which moves beyond the confines of the privatisation debate.

Firstly, post apartheid South African water politics has mirrored trends, especially in the global South, with the development of public-private partnerships and the increased promotion of water privatisation. However, the last few years have

witnessed a retreat by capital as it has encountered difficulties in profiting from water concessions. Despite this, the focus of the South African public sector has remained on economic efficiency in water delivery, thereby supporting arguments that one of the central myths concerning the advancement of market principles is the notion that it should necessarily be accompanied by the rolling back of state regulation (Bakker, 2010; Loftus, 2005). Secondly, a linked instrument in the treatment of water as an economic good in South Africa is the principle of Cost-recovery. This principle has emerged as central within South African water delivery and has been widely debated (McDonald & Pape, 2002; Naidoo, 2005; Coalition against water privatisation, 2003, 2006; Cottle & Deedat, 2003; Oldfield & Peters, 2005; Loftus, 2005, Koelble et al, 2010). Cost-recovery is supported by a view that resources such as water are scarce and require control over their distribution with a pricing mechanism as the best instrument to achieving this. The suggestion then is that improved fiscal and managerial controls are necessary to solving the crisis of service delivery within South Africa. Furthermore the predominant view within the DWAF was that the rates boycotts of the 1980s lead to a sense of entitlement resulting in a culture of nonpayment.

However critics contend that promotion of cost recovery as a necessary solution to municipal budget constraints and resource conservation (Koelble et al, 2010:565), sidesteps the fundamental challenges of unemployment and its relationship to inequality and an inability to pay for services. A number of empirical studies carried out over the last 10 years in South Africa have shown that non-payment is actually

related to the affordability issues, high rates of unemployment and service quality (McDonald & Pape, 2002, Xali, 2002, Cottle & Deedat, 2003; Oldfield & Peters, 2005). Faced with growing criticism, full cost recovery7 practiced in the 1990s, has since been adapted with the introduction of Free Basic Water (FBW) 8, in October 2000. This most notably followed a severe cholera epidemic in several provinces and cities in the same year, the worst in South Africas history, which was linked by many to the policy of full cost recovery (Cottle & Deedat, 2003; Budds & McGranahan, 2003). Free Basic Water (FBW) can therefore be understood as a mechanism adopted to mediate the materialised fault lines of the waterscape. Studies critically examining FBW have written of the paradox of FBW and Cost Recovery showing its effect in increasing household debt and municipal financial loss (Oldfield & Peters, 2005), and referring to FBW as the Free Basic Commodity (Loftus, 2005). Drawing on an empirical study in Durban, Loftus shows the paradox presented through the offer of Free Basic Water which, intended to be a universal minimal quantity of water available to all, became the maximum accessed by many of the Citys poor. Furthermore, while the effect of FBW has been to prevent complete disconnection for non payment, this practice has been replaced by the use of crude technologies directed at restricting water access to the Free Basic Water quantity (Peters & Oldfield, 2005; Loftus, 2005; Schnitzler, 2008). In a study tracing the history of pre-payment technology in South Africa from its initial development as a depoliticising device in the context of the rent boycotts to its contemporary use - alongside the water restrictor and flow limiter in the context of cost recovery and neoliberal reforms, Schnitzler (2008) argues that the history of the technology becomes inscribed within it and the meter has been re-rationalised as an instrument aiding residents to calculate and economise their water consumption consequently creating spaces of calculability, forcing especially poor Soweto residents to subject their daily consumption patterns to metrological scrutiny (Schnitzler, 2008).

The concept of Cost Recovery is defined as the recovery of all, or most, of the cost associated with providing a particular service by a service provider (McDonald, 2004: 18). Cost recovery defines water users as consumers; and commits them to contributing to at least the operation and maintenance costs of delivery (McDonald & Pape, 2002; Smith, 2002; Hagg & Emmett, 2003; Ruiters & McDonald, 2005). A lifeline amount of 6 kilolitres per household per month

The Bio-politics and Techno-politics operating along the fault lines of the contemporary South African waterscape, treating water as a public and economic good, surfaced notably in the case of the residents of Phiri, Soweto versus Johannesburg Water. The case was brought to the Johannesburg High Court in 2006 by five female residents of Phiri, supported by the Coalition Against Water Privatisation. All five of the applicants, together with their neighbours had their water cut off, or were persuaded into accepting a pre-paid meter. The Phiri Residents argued that the South African Constitution guarantees their right to water and obliges the state to achieve the progressive realisation of each of these rights (Republic of South Africa, 1996). This rights based discourse has been mobilised by left

academics, social movements and the urban poor alike as an ideological and strategic counter to the treatment of water as an economic good. In April 2008, the High Court ruled in favour of the Phiri applicants concluding that pre-paid meters were unconstitutional and unlawful, and the city should provide residents with fifty litres of water per person per day (above the allocated FBW quota of 25 litres per person per day). However, this victory was short-lived as Johannesburg Water immediately appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court overturned the High Courts decision in 2009, ruling that prepaid meters were not unconstitutional and that a basic quantity of 40 litres per person per day was sufficient. Finally on appeal the Constitutional Court upheld the Supreme Courts ruling in favour of Johannesburg Water. The case is a powerful illustration of the false antithesis between market principles and the stated goal of human rights, and the ways in which tensions between these principles are mediated.

1.2. An exercise in re-envisioning: Moving toward a third way of analysis

Having briefly the presented the case of South Africa and the ways in which the privatisation debate has shaped and been shaped by the particularities of the South African context, I wish to suggest that if the goal is to contribute to real change what is needed is an analytical movement that engages in a re-envisioning, and steps outside of the confines constructed by the privatisation debate. The aim should

therefore be to move beyond the question of the degree to which South African water policy and practice is reflective of privatisation, and refuse to be drawn into technical debates concerned with for example the sufficient quantity of FBW, as the goal in itself. While significant for short-term amelioration of stark inequality, focusing efforts at this level is at risk of contributing to a disguising of the proper political dimensions, relations and processes which are engaged in directing South African water flows. Therefore, the approach being proposed here aims to bring into question the largely un-questioned acceptance of a naturalised water scarcity, and the related mobilisation of technical and managerial fixes.

It is suggested that the work being carried out especially within political ecology offers such a framework, understood as a third way of analysis concerned with shifting the focus into examining the domain of the properly political. In expanding their understanding of water as circulating through the material as well as social and political spheres, political ecologists have coined the term hydro-social cycle. This expanded understanding of waters circulation allows for a recognition that the material flow of water is determined by more than the hydrological cycle, but also directed by wider practices, institutions and unfolding political processes, consequently bringing into question naturalised understandings of water access, scarcity, and pollution as dimensions of the water crisis. Instead, such a framework, points to the necessity of excavating the underlying processes and power geometries which shape the emergent waterscape and relationally presents a challenge to an unquestioned acceptance of dominant modes of problematisation. It is suggested then that the value of such an analysis is to move beyond apolitical and a-historical representations of the problem, pointing instead to the processes of co-production of observed environments, consequently opening up pathways to conceive of alternatives beyond technical and managerial fixes. The potential of political ecology, and in particular urban political ecology, to offer an advanced relational approach to examining the power and politics of socio-nature within capitalism will be considered below. This discussion is also concerned with a tracing of the theoretical roots of urban political ecology, understood to be predominantly a relational Marxism, with elements of New Materialism.

2.0. Re-inserting the political into examining SocioNatural relations


As suggested at the start of this paper, global environmental threats have assumed an increased urgency within public discourse as well as in political debate, with the challenges framed as a global ecological crisis. These ecological crises including water degradation and deforestation - are represented as externalised and commonly shared threats that need to be overcome through the actions of a collective humanity, with solutions located within the domain of technical and managerial reconfigurations and transformations. Proponents of these fixes are guided by a dominant economistic understanding of human environment relations, which represents nature as out there, an external threat to be addressed. The approach acknowledges the spectre of ecological crisis, and environmental economists have also come to acknowledge that economic growth has generated environmental problems; however it is argued that the solution to the problem should be found within capitalism. In particular the approach represents nature either as an obstacle to be overcome or a source to fuel industrial society. The central argument is that the only route out of the ecological crisis is to travel deeper into capitalist processes, advocating ecological modernisation 9 as the panacea. Hence the particular form of modernisation embraced is not a radical break with the current economic system and institutions. Rather the forces of modernisation that are believed to lead human society from its past of environmental degradation and exploitation to environmental sustainability are the institutions of modernity, including the market, industrialism and technology (Foster et al, 2010: 253-254). This logic is evident in the framing of the debate around water privatisation, as outlined above, and evident in the South African case with the emphasis on water pricing and market mechanisms as central elements within water management policy.

However a challenge to this market environmentalist logic has been put forward by critical theorists wanting to advance a relational conception of society nature relations

This market driven approach to correcting contemporary socio-ecological crisis has been variously described as green capitalism, ecological modernisation, and market environmentalism.

within contemporary capitalist society.

These theorists have argued that the

representation of nature as external to society and a-historical, by proponents of market environmentalism, is central in supporting a de-politicisation of society nature relations and emergent socio-ecological conditions. In other words, it is argued that the representation of nature as simultaneously universal and external, functions as an act of ideological colonisation, which serves to silence the political dimensions of socio-natural processes and products. This exercise in de-politicisation is understood as a necessary precondition for enabling a promotion of market based institutional transformations as the optimum solution to socio-ecological crisis. In sum, this

critique of market environmentalism points to a paradoxical treatment of the environment; where environmental issues are placed firmly on the political agenda, as is the case with water scarcity, while simultaneously being suspended outside of the proper political through its representation as a-historical and external.

As a counter to the externalised and universal treatment of nature, understood as ideologies of nature 10 critical social theorists have advanced the development of a relational ontology on socio-nature enabling a reflection on the relational processes of socio-natural assembly, and the conditions that these generate, and consequently aiming to debase the ideological and depoliticised treatment of the concept of nature.

The next section reviews the attempts made at moving toward re-conceptualising socio natural relations, as a route to re-problematising the contemporary socio ecological conditions and challenges we face. Anchored in the work of relational Marxists (with urban political ecology understood as rooted within this framework), the review proceeds as follows: 1) Reviewing the relational Marxist project, concerned with an understanding of socio-nature consistent with the tenets of historical materialism. 2) This is followed by an engagement with the ideas of urban political ecology, understood as predominantly rooted within this Marxist framework of analysis. It is significant however, that while contributing to efforts to reconceptualise society nature relations, relational Marxism has not evaded critique.

A representation which the ecological modernisation project has drawn on strongly, in the contemporary context of socio-ecological crisis.

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The main points of critique have been made by alternative relational theses, working outside of the Marxian tradition, most notably branches of new materialism. However for the purposes of this paper the New Materialist challenge, overlaps with relational Marxism and the points of contention will not be explored. However the main critiques levelled at a relational Marxism will be acknowledged and reflected upon. Following this review we are then better positioned to consider the capacity of a relational Marxist framework, and urban political ecology as an offshoot and later advancement, to offer a third way of analysis into understanding the making of the South African waterscape.

2.1. Marxist Historical Materialism as a Relational Ontology

2.1.1. The Basic Tenets of Relational Marxism


Especially over the past 3 decades Human Geographers have debated explicitly ontological questions about society nature relations. The most influential efforts to move beyond the dualism came from Marxist geographers who sought to develop an understanding of nature consistent with the tenets of historical materialism 11. Geographer Neil Smith (1984) argued that it was possible to identify within Marxs writing a strong ontological challenge to a dualistic a-historical treatment of nature, since he situated humans within nature as one of its constituent parts, and understood nature as something produced rather than timeless and eternal. More specifically Smith (1984) saw in Marx a dialectic between society and nature, understood as a complex metabolic interaction, mobilised by the labour process. Marx utilised the concept of metabolism to describe the human relation to nature through labour as follows,

Labour is, first of all, a process between man and nature, a process by which man, through his own actions, mediates, regulates and controls the metabolism between himself and nature. He confronts the materials of nature as a force of nature. He sets
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The term is generally used to refer to Marxs central project outlining a theory of capitalist society;

developed as a historical explanation of capitalist processes and relations, focusing on their material basis.

in motion the natural forces which belong to his own body, his arms, legs, head and hands, in order to appropriate the materials of nature in a form adapted to his own needs. Through this movement he acts upon external nature and changes it, and in this way he simultaneously changes his own nature It [the labour process] is the universal condition for the metabolic interaction [Stoffwechsel] between man and nature, the everlasting nature imposed condition of human existence (Marx in Foster, 2000: 157).

Drawing on this concept of metabolic interaction as denoting a dialectical and historically material relation between society and nature Smith (1984) derived an alternative conception of nature out of Marxs Ecology (Smith, 2010:31), proposing the production of nature thesis. Smiths particular contribution was to push debate forward by presenting an ontological challenge to politically paralysing beliefs in the existence of a naturally pre-ordained state of things, which he termed the ideology of nature. The production of nature thesis suggested that Nature did not exist ahistorically and instead that its history was being written.

In the development of his thesis Smith (1984) was particularly concerned with advancing a theoretical basis with which to examine capitalist production as the force governing contemporary socio natural relations. Smith (1984) argued that due to primitive accumulation as the precondition of capitalist development, capitalism differs from other exchange economies in that it produces on one side a class that possesses the means of production, and yet do no labour, and on the other side a class that possesses only their own labor power, which they must sell to survive. Furthermore the relation to nature under capitalism is an exchange value relation above all else, due to capitalisms basis in surplus accumulation (Smith, 1984; Smith & OKeefe, 1980). In sum, Smith (1984) argued that capitalist production was distinctive in that the transformative relation between society and nature was governed centrally by the need to fulfil profit (Smith, 1984; Smith & OKeefe, 1980).

Departing from this thesis the questions that emerged related to how and why natures are produced in the forms they are at any particular historical moment; and relationally in the conception of alternatives how and by what social means and

through what social institutions is the production of nature to be organised (Braun, 2009). However, despite the contributions recounted above, the thesis has been critiqued for retaining a subject object dichotomy, consequently collapsing nature into society and risking losing sight of the materiality of nature (Castree, 1995; Castree, 2002; Braun, 2009). Recent Marxist work has aimed to respond to this criticism by recognising that capitalism produces natures, while still recognising the materiality and agency of these produced natures. In particular Marxist geographers, have engaged with and developed Smiths thesis to be reflective of a more relational ontology. These developments will be outlined briefly below, before moving to discussing urban political ecology in particular, as a developing sub-field within political ecology, and also understood to be a contemporary offshoot within relational Marxism.

2.1.2. Advances in Relational Marxism


Retaining the basic tenets of Smiths Production of Nature thesis, while aiming to respond to some of the criticism levelled at the thesis, the continuing relational Marxist project has aimed to build on understandings of capitalist metabolic relations, in a more relational form. Alongside the influence of Smith, Castree (2002) identifies two figures that have been central in contributing to this project, namely David Harvey and Erik Swyngedouw. A recent development in the relational examination of capitalist society has been put forward by Harvey in his expansion of his dialectical approach to include the environment as a constitutive moment within a larger relational ontology12.

Other Marxist geographers working within this school include George Henderson, Scott Prudham, Noel Castree, Karen Bakker, Gavin Bridge, James McCarthy, Becky Mansfield, and Mathew Gandy. Their work has also contributed to understandings of the agency of non human nature as both a potential problem and opportunity for circuits of capital.

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Within his dialectical approach Harvey (2009) recognises seven spheres of influence as follows; technology, relations to nature, mental conceptions, production, social relations, reproduction, and institutional arrangements; and argues that these operate as internal relations within a larger totality.

2.1.3. The Influence of Marxs Dialectical Method on this Relational Branch of Historical Materialism
As already suggested, the conception centrally informing the reading of socio-nature employed by relational Marxists is Marxs concept of metabolic exchange between nature and society without which human beings could not exist and history could not be made. This material relation was for Marx a dialectical one in that it was an internal relation within a larger single totality. Therefore in conceiving of and dealing with such a world - where each thing consists of the totality of its relations Marx deemed the dialectical methods as the most appropriate tool as:

Dialectics restructures our thinking about reality by replacing the common-sense notion of thing (as something that has a history and has external connections with other things) with notions of process (which contains its history and possible futures) and relation (which contains as part of what it is its ties with other relations). (Ollman, 2003: 13) 13.

The dialectical method is mobilised within Marxism as a tool with which to systematically study the complexity of the modern world as it evolves and changes over time. Focusing on processes of production, exchange, and distribution in the capitalist era, it tries to account for the structure as well as the dynamics of the entire social system, including both its origins and likely future. A central strength of the dialectical mode is to challenge an externalised method of problematisation. This is to say that while non-dialectical thought searches for an external cause to explain an event or emergent problem, dialectical thought locates responsibility for change within internal systemic relations.

13

Bertell Ollman (2003) identifies two key elements to Marxs dialectic, the philosophy of internal

relations, and the process of abstraction. He contends that while the philosophy of internal relations offers a method for inquiring into the world and organising and communicating what one finds, an adequate grasp of this method requires that equal attention be paid to other elements of the dialectic, and especially to the process of abstraction (Ollman, 2003: 5).

Relational Marxists have been inspired by Marxs dialectical method 14 in deriving their ontology and consequent analytical concepts. Therefore in turning this dialectic mode onto the contemporary capitalist era with the emergence of socio-ecological crisis; relational Marxists argue for an understanding of these problems as internally constituted, and therefore as emerging from the inner contradictions of the system. Capitalisms fate, in other words, is sealed by its own problems, problems that are internal manifestations of what it is and how it works and are often parts of the very achievements of capitalism, worsening as these achievements grow and spread (Ollman, 2003:18). It becomes evident, through this explication of the mode of thought informing relational Marxism, how this approach serves as a challenge to the narrow framing of the problem as externally constituted and requiring technical fixes through moving deeper into capitalism. Instead, a relational Marxist approach, drawing on a dialectical reading of metabolic relations, locates the problem internally, consequently pointing to a re-conceptualisation of both the problems and possible solutions.

In sum, for relational Marxists, influenced by a dialectical mode of thought, nature is understood not as an external and universal entity that requires protection from people or a domain to be dominated, but instead as part of a mutually constituted totality. As explained by Swyngedouw, drawing on Levins and Lewontin,

the world is in a process of continuous becoming through the contingent and heterogeneous recompositions of the almost infinite (socio)-ecological relations through which new natures come into being see relations of parts to the whole and the mutual interaction of parts in the whole as the process through which both individuals and their environments are changed (see also Harvey, 1996). In other words, both individuals and their environments are co-produced and co-evolve in historically contingent, highly diversified, locally specific and often not fully accountable manners (Swyngedouw, 2010:304).

14

In particular the reading advanced by Bertell Ollman (Castree, 2002)

2.2. Urban Political Ecology as rooted in a Marxist Relational Ontology


Ideas emanating from the field of urban political ecology15 draw on the Marxian understanding of socio-natural relations within capitalism. As such, the ontological basis of this dialectical conception of society nature relations is largely traceable to a relational Marxism. As an approach broadly concerned with the development of a relational ontology it sees both society and nature as combined in historical geographic production processes, perpetually producing new environments and new natures.

Following the ontology of relational Marxism, the urban political ecology literature has offered a contrasting approach to a large proportion of urban scholarship which rests on the notion that cities are the antithesis to the natural environment. Instead scholars within urban political ecology argue that the urban landscape is a vast, interconnected ecological system, where evolving modalities of land use have modified, reshaped and otherwise altered the hydrology, climatology, geomorphology and bio-geographic characteristics of the natural environment rather than conceiving of urbanisation as a process that inexorably displaces nature it is more fruitful to explore how city-building is intimately connected with reworking nature (Murray, 2009:171). As such, the contribution of urban political ecology is located within the post dualistic efforts of relational Marxism, concerned with challenging society-nature dualisms and positing instead that the material and symbolic, the natural and the social, the built and wild, are inseparable aspects of the urban space.

Urban political ecology seeks to politicise understandings of observed social processes and socio-ecological conditions, with cities understood as a particular form. This politicisation is done through carrying out an excavation of the transformative social and metabolic-ecological processes underlying their constitution, organisation and change. With environments conceived of as produced and reproduced, emerging through ongoing processes of mutual transformation between society and nature, this
Includes Wisner, 1995a; 2001; Harvey, 1996; Swyngedouw, 1996; 2004; Gandy, 1999; 2002; Kaika and Swyngedouw, 2000; Swyngedouw and Kaika, 2000; Berry, 2001; Castree and Braun, 2001; Keil, 2003; Swyngedouw and Heynen, 2003; Kaika, 2005; Loftus, 2009
15

social construction/production approach suggests therefore that environments can be potentially constituted in a multitude of forms, depending on the socio-ecological processes underlying their (re)production. A political ecology framework seeks to excavate these underlying processes, paying particular attention to social power relations infusing socio-environmental change.

This guiding dimension of a political ecology approach is best captured as follows, it is these power geometries and the social actors carrying them out that ultimately decide who will have access to or control over, and who will be excluded from access to and control over, resources and other components of the environment. These power geometries, in turn, shape the particular social and political configurations and the environments in which we live (Swyngedouw, 2009: 57; Swyngedouw et al., 2001; Heynen et al., 2005). Finally, while a political ecology approach employs critical insights to chop its way through the acquiescent acceptance that the world is unchangeable (Loftus, 2009: 954) it then builds on these to contribute toward an emancipatory project of socio-environmental change, developing ideas about an alternative democratically organised world.

2.2.1. Central Contributions of Urban Political Ecology


As an offshoot of relational Marxism, Urban Political Ecology has also aimed to advance this framework. A key contribution of Urban Political Ecology to relational Marxism has emerged through its empirical focus on the urban environment, including water, serving both to revive historical materialism and consequently deepen insights into processes of urban metabolic processes of change. A second central contribution of Urban Political Ecology to relational Marxism, is located upon the point of critique of the original Smith thesis, as anthropocentric. Instead contemporary analysis, particularly examining water-city-power interactions, has developed from examining how water distribution is shaped by social relations of power to examine how water comes to shape these relations. This move reflects a reconceptualisation of notions of agency conceiving of water and social relations as mutually constitutive within urbanisation processes, taking the agency of nature seriously.

A further contribution of urban political ecology is to emphasise that what are represented as natural crises are in fact produced through material and discursive socio-natural processes. This applies as much to struggles over water access, water scarcity, and natural disasters such as floods that often have the harshest consequences for the urban poor. Urban political ecology understands these crisis as socially produced, arguing that the built environment and the biophysical fabric of cities are made and they function together as an organic whole (Castree, 1995; Castree and Braun, 2001; Wisner, 2003) (Murray, 2009:172). The impact of this analysis is to shatter traditional financial, technical or natural justifications of water inequalities by illustrating how water distribution is more about political manipulation than resource availability. Furthermore, revealing how the status quo is maintained through a discourse of water scarcity, where the inadequate and unequal distribution technology/network and high cost of water to the urban poor is muted through blaming nature for the problem. This material and discursive production of scarcity has been examined by Bakker (2000), Kaika (2003), and Swyngedouw (2004). In particular Kaika (2003) examines the use of scarcity as a discursive vehicle in building social consensus and facilitating particular socio-ecological processes through her analysis of the 1989-1991 droughts in Athens.

A second and related contribution of urban political ecology is to emphasise that cities shape and are shaped by their surrounding environment, through drawing on distant food and energy sources, influencing the transportation networks required for these to reach cities, the consumption of these materials as well as the generation and disposal of wastes (Kaika, 2005; Bakker, 2010). Challenging a dualistic representation of the separation between rural and city spaces. Furthermore, the material flows which cities depend on require the construction of elaborate infrastructure to enable cities to function, with the building and positioning of this infrastructure determined through fundamentally political processes that consequently come to shape resource access, and the material form of the city in particular forms as opposed to others.

Finally a key contribution of Urban Political Ecology has been to operate at the interface between meta-theory and empirical investigation. Drawing on the ontological insights offered within a relational Marxism as well as the related

conceptual tools offered by Marx in Capital, in his efforts to explore the conditions necessary for the reproduction of capitalist relations of production. However, the impact of the approach has been to revive historical materialism and consequently deepen insights into grounded processes of urban metabolic processes of change. Furthermore, while the common theoretical threads amongst those engaged in work around urban political ecology has predominantly been within the branch of relational Marxism, an examination of the work particular of scholars examining urban water, points to subtle particularities in their theoretical positions and the conceptual tools mobilised, pointing to the development of analytical hybrids. For example the work of Ekers and Loftus (2008), draws on concepts offered outside of relational Marxism in order to push the relational and political project forward in the development of understandings of the politics of socio nature within capitalism, focusing on urban water politics in particular. They argue that while contemporary scholars working within the political ecology of water have drawn on and revitalised historical geographical materialism, no one has employed a Gramscian framework and little thought has been given to what a Foucauldian approach could bring to understandings of urban water politics (Ekers et al, 2008). They therefore aim to examine whether an engagement with Gramsci and Foucault holds potential to advance understandings of urban water provision. More explicitly for Ekers and Loftus (2008) the potential of channelling Gramsci and Foucault is in providing a supporting framework through which to consider whether everyday water relations can be understood as being located within the operation of hegemony and maintenance of subtle forms of rule. A Gramscian and Foucauldian analysis would enable more explicit reflections on the position of the individual to broader networks of power in a decentralised form. Furthermore they would allow for explicit reflections on the material basis of ideology and hegemony maintenance through consensus building and coercion.

These efforts to construct a revived framework that moves across the boundaries of structuralist and post-structuralist thought points to the potential to simultaneously employ and renovate the conceptual tool-box of political ecology in undertaking empirical study, while retaining the central concern with inserting the political into understandings of socio-natural relations. Ekers and Loftus argue that while these themes of social relations of power, the role of the state, and the material and discursive production of nature have all been explored within the political ecology

literature, they have not been located within an explicit framework of analysis. Therefore for Ekers and Loftus the employment of Gramsci and Foucault could suggest a potential to make these more explicit, locating them within the proposed frameworks.

2.3. Challenges to Historical Materialist Analysis


Through its philosophy of internal relations, a relational Marxist approach, appears to advance a more robust relational ontology by taking matter seriously, averting the danger of positing a natural limits argument, and consequently serving as a potent challenge to treatments of nature as universal and external. However, despite these efforts, it has not avoided criticism, stemming predominantly from proponents of New Materialism. It is significant however, that while contributing to efforts to reconceptualise society nature relations, relational Marxism has not evaded critique. The main points of critique have been made by alternative relational theses, working outside of the Marxian tradition, most notably branches of new materialism. However for the purposes of this paper the New Materialist challenge, overlaps with relational Marxism and the points of contention will not be explored. However the main critiques levelled at a relational Marxism will be acknowledged and reflected upon. Following this review we are then better positioned to consider the capacity of a relational Marxist framework, and urban political ecology as an offshoot and later advancement, to offer a third way of analysis into understanding the making of the South African waterscape.

2.3.1. Moving beyond Anthropocentricism


While recognising the efforts of geographers such as George Henderson (1999) and Gavin Bridge (2000) to emphasise the uncooperative nature of nature, critics have argued that the overall predilection within this school has been toward a anthropocentric approach (Castree, 2002; Holifield, 2009; Braun, 2006; Braun, 2010). However, in contrast to this reading, it is argued that the review carried out above of the later work of Urban Political Ecology as well as the work of Bridge and other Marxist geographers demonstrates that significant renovations have been made since

Smiths seminal work. With these advances having lead to a relational Marxism which takes matter seriously as an agent of change and is therefore neither anthropocentric nor ecocentric. In this sense the relational Marxism holds up to the critique.

2.3.2. Economic determinism in conceptualising power relations and change


Marxists understand the particular form of metabolic relations to be informed by the specific social relations within which they unfold; therefore the (co)production of socio nature within capitalist relations is understood to be historically distinctive. This is because under capitalism, relations between humans and non humans is an exchange value relation above all else, due to the capitalisms basis in surplus accumulation (Smith, 1984; Smith & OKeefe, 1980). Hence relational Marxists contend that the metabolism of socio nature under capitalist social relations is distinctive in that the transformative relation between society and nature is governed centrally by the need to fulfil profit (Smith, 1984; Smith & OKeefe, 1980). This position has been critiqued for being economically deterministic and guilty of perpetuating power asymmetries in developing understandings of the relations and processes that constitute socio nature.

However in assessing this critique, it is argued that to theorise society nature relations in abstraction from processes of capitalist accumulation is to miss a vital aspect of their logic and consequences (Castree, 2002:123). Therefore, from this point of view, it is suggested that a Marxist historical materialist approach offers the best means of understanding metabolic relations as they unfold within capitalist society, as this framework is guided both by ontological and political goals. However, it is further argued that a relational Marxism could benefit from an insertion of more explicit theorisations of power and change. A discussion of the potential theoretical frameworks to be drawn on to renovate a relational Marxism, and strengthen conceptions of power and change, is beyond the scope of this paper.

2.3.3. The relational sufficiency of the Dialectic


Critics have argued that the dialectical, historical materialist approach might not be materialist enough. This final charge has been made due to what is understand as a conflict between the expressed commitment of relational Marxists to a philosophy of generalised relationality (as articulated through the philosophy of internal relations), and a related desire to find foundational concepts and locate generative processes, which is understood as an economic determinism (Braun, 2006). Based on the above, it should be noted that this critique of the tensions of the dialectic pivots on the broader critique of economic determinism. Therefore in responding to this critique of the dialectic, it is worthwhile to recount the argument put forward in the preceding section, in response to the broader critique of economic determinism. It was argued that the mobilisation of conceptions promoting relational power symmetries has a depoliticising effect. While, in contrast, the value of historical materialism is that it functions both as an ontological and political project by offering the best means of understanding metabolic relations as they unfold within capitalist society. Following from this, the supposed tension in the dialectic as presented by critics, is understood as actually pointing to the twofold ontological and political project of relational Marxism, as opposed to conflicting and contradictory dimensions which imply the insufficiency of the dialectic 16.

3.0. Mobilising an ethnography of actor relations and power to make sense of South African water flow
Water is essential for life and so imbued with symbolic meanings: purity, divinity and health. It supports the ecologies on which we depend. As a resource it is also an essential input for our economies so it is unsurprising that conflicts over the use,
16

In this section the focus has been on an engagement along the spaces of critique of relational

Marxism. However, the conclusions reached should not be taken as a suggestion that as a relational ontology, a relational Marxism should not be renovated and developed through synthesis with concepts offered within alternative relational theses, most notably new materialism. It is simply that such an engagement into the ontological and political spaces of overlap and contention between these relational approaches is beyond the purview of this paper.

ownership and conservation of water are long standing (Bakker, 2010:226). These competing uses of water make water governance and analysis of the processes shaping these difficult to capture. This paper has been concerned with moving beyond the contemporary debates on water governance encircling notions of privatisation, by arguing that these debates are narrowly conceived and limit the potential for reenvisioning by framing the debate within a binary understanding of the state and private sector as agents of delivery. Furthermore it has been suggested that the alternatives presented, most notably the commons approach and human rights approach, while suggesting an effort to move toward greater water equity, are also limited in their capacity to present a fundamental challenge to a market environmentalist logic. The treatment of water as an economic good and human right in South Africa, taking the case of the Phiri residents versus Johannesburg Water as a crystallisation of this tension, is a powerful illustration of the false antithesis between market principles and the stated goal of human rights, and the ways in which tensions between these principles are continuously mediated.

Therefore it was suggested that a third way of analysis is required to enable a reading of the waterscape which moves beyond framing the debate within the posited technical and managerial solutions. Instead it is argued that critical analysis and efforts to achieve real transformation in water equity and distribution would be better directed toward examining and excavating the terrain of power and politics which function to constitute the observed environment, emerging as spaces of connection and disconnection. Urban political ecology offers a potential model enabling an analysis of the actual processes and relations mutually constituting the South African waterscape, as emerging through specific historical geographical power struggles, as essentially political processes and outcomes. In this final section, having already presented the principle dimensions, strengths and critiques of a relational Marxism, and urban political ecology, we will consider the capacity of this framework to unlock the analytical limitations of the privatisation debate, offering an alternative lens through which to examine the politics of water flow in South Africa, and how it comes to transform or maintain geographies of exclusion.

Drawing on the outlining of the framework presented above, it is suggested that as a conceptual framework a relational ontology and political ecology, guided by a

Marxian historical materialist perspective offers a compelling framework of analysis and explanation as it is attentive to the processes (metabolic relations), and the materiality of human and non-human actors in the co-production of socio-ecological conditions as they unfold within contemporary capitalist society. Firstly, as a political project, historical materialism supports an ongoing analysis of the current social and political conditions of contemporary capitalist societies in light of their historical development. Such a perspective necessitates a reinsertion of the political into understandings of the observed emergent environment by locating this within larger circuits of capital, power and actor flows, understood to be unfolding across space and time. Furthermore, as a relational project, relational Marxism and political ecology as an offshoot of this project, is concerned with an excavation of the mutually constitutive internal relations, which come to be manifested in material water and technology flows producing social and geographic spaces of connection and disconnection. Such a framework also enables a bottom-up tracing of the relational constitution of the waterscape. Therefore, when guided by this framework, an effort to make sense of the observable features of the South African waterscape, would necessarily have to move beyond debates around agents of delivery, and focus instead on undertaking an excavation of the spatial and historical dimensions of the human and non-human actor relations, technologies, discourses, and governance infrastructure that mutually constitute the observed environment. It is suggested that the value of such an approach would be to challenge a reading of the environment as a naturalised thing, severed from that which shapes its becoming. Emphasising instead an excavation of the real politics of socio-natural production, including the politics of problematisation, and examining how these function as instruments in supporting particular forms of socio-natural production as opposed to others. Secondly, undertaken as an ethnography of actor networks, such a tracing enables a surfacing of the nodes of power and spaces of contestation that transform and/or lend a permanence to the emergent socio-natural environment 17. It is hoped that through this act of surfacing it is possible then to show the competing interests, strategies, ideologies, mobilised discourses, flows of power, and spatial and historical continuity and discontinuity moving through these
Convection currents within the earths mantle and outer core, operating below the visible crust, yet functioning as a heat transfer system that slowly moves the earths mantle, offers a useful metaphor in envisaging underlying processes of permanence and both sudden or gradual change.
17

actor networks, thereby rendering the political ecology of production visible and revealing the waterscape as a crystallised fetish. This can then be employed to read back into the ongoing debate so as to open it up, making an argument for real change that challenges the naturalisation of existing social and metabolic relations and their emergent products.

The above understanding of the contribution of the proposed framework to offer a third way of analysis, by excavating the relational processes co-producing the waterscape is visually depicted in the Flow Chart below.

It is suggested that such a relational approach, working from the underlying relations of becoming offers a route through which to re-envision, re-problematise, and repoliticise the water crisis so as to move closer to conceiving of solutions which can bring about real change.

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