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Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2008, volume 26, pages 698 ^ 718


The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault

and Gramsci
Michael Ekers

Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, England;

Alex Loftus

Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham TW20 0EX, England;
Received 2 July 2007; in revised form 5 November 2007

Abstract. This paper develops an exchange between two important strands of research within
contemporary human geography. One concerns the matter of socionatures; the other concerns the
operation and establishment of power within liberal, capitalist social formations. Through mobilising
some of the recent writings on the political ecology of water, we seek to show how an engagement
with Gramscian and Foucauldian work on power could be mutually beneficial for both areas of
research. In so doing, we seek to mobilise some of the tensions, as well as the points of engagement,
between Gramscian and Foucauldian approaches. Through opening up the ways in which water
contributes to the survival of liberal capitalist formations and also to the production of distinctive
subjectivities, this dialogue provides new inroads into the politics and praxis of everyday life.

1 Introduction
For numerous scholars, an empirical focus on water has served to revitalise historical
geographical materialism, providing new insights into produced environments, uneven
development, and the politics of urban metabolisms. However, no one to date has
deployed a Gramscian framework to understand urban water provision, and, with
several exceptions (Gandy, 2006a; 2006b; Joyce, 2003; Osborne, 1996), little consideration has been given to the purchase that a Foucauldian approach would bring to our
understanding of water politics. Accordingly, this paper examines whether our understanding of the politics of urban water provision can be pushed forward through a
direct engagement with the work of Gramsci and Foucault. More explicitly, can we
understand everyday relations to water as being imbricated in the operation of hegemony and in the maintenance of subtle forms of rule? When competing groups struggle
over the merits of various means of water provision, they might also be understood to
be struggling over the shape of a future societyone in which the exchange relation is
dominant, or one in which use and need are privileged over profit. However, when
people routinely turn on a tap are they also positioned within a myriad of relations and
techniques of power that bind them to the survival of capitalism? This paper seeks to
develop a theoretical framework through which future research can approach these
questions. In short, we want to lay some modest foundations for a future research
agenda. In order to do this, we enter into a second fount of theoretical debatethe
reconcilability or irreconcilability of the work of Gramsci and Foucault.
In recent years, this second debate has been taken up within the geographical
literature through work on neoliberalisms. Here, Gramscian approaches have been
brought into conversation with Foucauldian approaches in ways that, whilst productive
for some (Larner, 2000; 2003; Peet, 2001; Sparke, 2006; Watts, 2003) others have argued
to be na| ve, theoretically clumsy, and politically confused (Barnett, 2005). Whilst this
Corresponding author.

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


debate is vital as a launchpad for some of the arguments taken forward in this paper,
nowhere in the debate do we find a detailed discussion of the actual tensions and
resonances within the work of these two important theorists. Instead, we see either
the adoption of a rarely questioned pluralism or an entrenchment of positions around
an antipathy to either historical materialism or poststructuralism. By shifting the
empirical discussion from one around neoliberalisms to one around the politics
and the practicalities of water provision, we argue that debates might discover a
more productive terrain. This necessarily depends on much closer scrutiny of the
work of both theorists. Hence, this paper serves two purposes: on the one hand, it
seeks to push forward debates on urban water provision, and, on the other, it seeks to
add a degree of theoretical robustness to the ongoing debates concerning Gramsci and
Foucault. By bringing these discourses together, we hope to bolster our understanding
of capitalist urbanisation.
After a brief review of some of the more recent work by geographers on water and
social power, we turn to a more detailed exploration of the potential contributions of
Gramsci and Foucault. Here, we focus on where we see resonances between the two:
around hegemony and governmentality as dispersed forms of rule, and in the importance placed on interactions between everyday practices, the materiality of ideology,
and power. We then go on to look at where we see significant tensions: in the
quite different understandings of power, conceptions of the `social', and the nature
of struggle. In spite of these tensions, and in spite of what was often a fiercely antiMarxist stance on Foucault's part, we refuse to consign the two theorists to opposing
camps. Indeed, along with several others (Driver, 1985; Jessop, 2007; Marsden, 1999)
we argue that differences do not necessarily prevent dialogue. Foucault's later work,
although treading an utterly distinctive path, seemed to move in many of the directions
that several historical materialist writers, including Gramsci, had also claimed. As
Mouffe (1979) has argued, Gramsci approached many of the theoretical concerns that
were to become central to Foucault's oeuvre. For both Jessop (2007) and Driver (1985),
this leads to what, on the surface, appears an erroneous claim: the theoretician we
associate most with a certain microphysics of power was also a provocative genealogist
of the state. Taking this forward in the final part of the paper, we show how research
on water might be enlivened by such debates. We do this by revisiting the existing
literature on water in light of our discussion of Gramsci and Foucault. In doing so, we
delineate the contours of a new research agenda concerning the politics of water. Here,
we suggest that the existing work could be advanced through explicating the connection between urban water provisions and both hegemonic projects and dispersed forms
of rule. In addition, we suggest that attention needs to be paid to the practices and
techniques through which social transformations are enacted.
2 Water and social power
For at least a century, geographers have been interested in the ways in which water,
power, and politics are woven together. In the accounts of early environmental determinists, water plays a vital role in shaping the history of specific societies (Semple,
1911).(1) Later, in somewhat more nuanced accounts, the interactions between social
and natural processes are seen to shape political fortunes. Here, one might think of the
possibilist critique of environmental determinism (Febvre, 1925) or, later, in geographers'
(Peet, 1985) engagements with Wittfogel's (1957) Oriental Despotism or Worster's (1986)

See chapter 1 entitled ``The operation of geographic factors in history''. The book is replete with
references to the role of geography in shaping history and includes a tenth chapter on ``Man's
relation to the water''.


M Ekers, A Loftus

Rivers of Empire. In more recent years, these relationships have been explored through a
reinvigorated historical geographical materialism (2) and through attempts to ground
political ecology much more firmly in a nuanced political economy.
With regard to the latter, Bakker's (2000; 2002; 2003, 2004; 2005) work has forced a
questioning of many of the simplistic assumptions in a political economy of the environment. The crude equation of water privatisation with deregulation is unsettled
through her argument that, within England and Wales, deregulation of the water sector
was accompanied by reregulation. Continually, Bakker's work urges us to rethink the
political economy within a nuanced left political ecology. At times, Bakker's (2007)
work charts a separate course, as seen in her stress that attention be paid to how the
reregulation of water is tied up with the reconfiguration of the citizen ^ consumer
nexus. Even if the conceptual resources she deploys to question the latter lack the
sophistication with which she approaches political ecology, Bakker's work brings us
to the cusp of explicitly considering how changes in urban water provision are tied to
the reconfiguration of social formations.
Others have found similarly productive insights in historicising the provision of
clean drinking water, showing how this, in turn, comes to play a constitutive role in the
rise of modernity. Gandy's wide-ranging work (1999; 2002; 2004a; 2004b, 2006a;
2006b; 2006c) situates the provision of water within discourses of the organic and the
sanitary city: water provision plays a key role in the rise of the Keynesian welfare state
and the `splintered urbanism' of Graham and Marvin's (2001) contemporary city. In
Concrete and Clay, Gandy (2002) develops rich insights into the politics of the city,
through looking at New York's expanding ecological frontier and the complexities
of the city's metabolic processes. Swyngedouw (1997a; 1999; 2004a; 2007), in turn,
develops sweeping historical geographies of both the Spanish and the Ecuadorean
waterscapes. In the Spanish case, the waterscape is shown to be both a crucial actor
in the development of a late-19th-century and early-20th-century regenerationist discourse as well as a key actor in the scalar politics of Franco's fascist dictatorship. In
Kaika and Swyngedouw's (2000) work, water infrastructure is shown to embody and
express the modernist triumph over nature, before, in more recent years, it becomes a
fetishised form of the Fordist social compromise. Kaika's (2003; 2004; 2005) writings
then go on to suggest ways in which this fetish might be transformed in periods of crisis
that puncture the intimacies of the modern home. Both Gandy's and Swyngedouw's
more recent work has sought to delve into some of the tropes through which socionatural relationships might be productively explored. For Gandy (2005; 2006a; 2006b),
this has involved projects on cyborg urbanisation and, more recently, exploring
the purchase in bringing Foucauldian ideas together with Agamben's writing. For
Swyngedouw (1996; 2006), this has involved a more overtly historical materialist
exploration of urban metabolisms and hybridity.
Implicit in much of this literature are several understandings of both power and
the exercise of power. In the rich empirical studies there is a clear appreciation of
how power circulates through sociohydraulic landscapes in decentralised and taken-forgranted manners. In this respect, power is an effect of a myriad of relations, not
something that can be held. Thus, in Swyngedouw's (2007) work, the coercive arm of
the fascist state works in concert with a consensual power, evident in the material and
symbolic flows of power in the waterscape. For Gandy the corporal extension of the
body to the physical and symbolic infrastructure of the city decentres the human
subject and rearranges the micropolitical realms of power in private spaces (2005; 2006a).
(2) For discussions of the concept of historical geographical materialism see Harvey (1982; 1996;
2003), Smith (1984), and Swyngedouw (2000).

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


However, within Swyngedouw's (2004a) and Gandy's (2006c) work there is also a
more realist understanding of power at play. Power for both of these authors
is also something that can be held and deployed. For instance, the military elite of
Lagos or the water vendors in Ecuador have the power to make water flow or not
flow through cities. Crucially, both Swyngedouw and Gandy insist that power, in the
realist sense, might be investigated through a historical geographical materialist
analysis. Whilst a choice between a more relational and a more realist understanding
of power does not necessarily need to be made, a more direct theoretical engagement
with the notion of power could add another degree of sophistication to what is
already cutting-edge scholarship.
Taking Swyngedouw and Gandy as representative figures, we suggest there is a
developing interest in exploring, on the one hand, how water figures in questions of
the subject and power, and, on the other, how water contributes to the stabilisation
of particular social formations. On the one hand, there is a gesturing towards antihumanist Foucauldian concerns and, on the other, there is a gesturing towards
more humanist Gramscian concerns. While, as we noted in the introduction, the
thoughts of these twothe humanist and the antihumanist, the imprisoned leader of
the Italian communist party and the anticommunist campaigner for reform of the
penal systemare not easily reconciled, they may provide conceptual tools through
which the water research agenda can be enlivened. Through exploring some of the
tensions and through using one's thought as a way of prising open questions within
the other's thought, productive insights might be possible.
3 The promise of Gramsci and Foucault?
There has been a profusion of literature in recent years on neoliberalism and governmentality. Whilst much of this has sought inspiration within Foucault's later works and
his lectures at the College de France,(3) this has often been complemented by references
to Gramsci. For Watts (2003) some of the work in this field (see Braun, 2000; Dean,
1999) represents a particularly powerful means of bringing together resource struggles
with the ragged politics of struggle over particular spaces. In Peet's work (2001), a
Gramscian theorisation of hegemony is complemented by some of Foucault's writings
on the power of discourse. And, for Larner (2000; 2003), some of the untidiness in
the establishment of neoliberalisms in different contexts might be explored through a
rapprochement of Gramsci and Foucault
Recently, however, Barnett (2005) has argued that the differences between `neomarxist' approaches and Foucault are significant enough to warrant extreme caution in
developing accounts inspired by both. In reference to recent geographical work on
neoliberalism, analysed through a Gramscian ^ Foucauldian lens, Barnett suggests that
this scholarship is at best theoretically clumsy and at worst simply na| ve. He states
that marxist and Foucauldian approaches ``imply different models of the nature of
explanatory concepts; different models of causality and determination; different models
of social relations and agency; and different normative understandings of political
power'', adding that ``we should not finesse these differences away by presuming that
the two approaches converge around a common real-world referent, so-called `neoliberalism' '' (Barnett, 2005, page 8). Neglected here, Barnett argues, are the debates
around Hall's (1978; 1984; 1988; Hall and Jacques, 1983) analyses of Thatcherism and
the cultural up-swell that led to the distinctiveness of `authoritarian populism'.
There is clearly much of value in Barnett's argument. It provides a wake-up call to
lazy theorising and disturbs what appears to be an unproductive consensus around

For an excellent discussion of these courses, further contextualising Foucault's (2000a) much
celebrated lecture titled ``Governmentality'', see Elden (2007a; 2007b) and Jessop (2007).


M Ekers, A Loftus

neoliberalism (see also Castree, 2006; Larner, 2003). Indeed, we would add to Barnett's
inventory of differences between Gramsci and Foucault their distinctive conceptions of
the `social' and the prominence afforded to the role of struggle. However, from this, we
do not arrive at the same impasse as Barnett [we do not claim to be alone in this (see
Driver, 1985, Jessop, 2007; Marsden, 1999)]. Lingering in Barnett's account, we suspect,
is something of a straw-Gramsci, characterised by economistic hubris, a misguided
conception of false consciousness, and a lingering humanist essentialism. Whereas
Barnett appears to assign the two theorists to different camps, we, instead, seek to
explore what can be gained from an analysis that builds on elements of both Gramsci's
work and Foucault's work, whilst keeping the generative tensions between the two
bodies of work explicit. Interestingly, and in contrast to Barnett's account, both
Gramsci and Foucault were at pains to stress (albeit not explicitly) conceptual themes
that became central to the other's work. For Gramsci, the individual served as an
important level of political practice. To take just one example, in his assertion that
everyone is a legislator, Gramsci (1971, page 266) states that if an individual accepts
directives from others ``he makes certain that others are carrying them out too.'' He
adds that, if an individual ``understood their spirit, he propagates them as though
making them into rules specially applicable to limited and definite zones of living.''
For Foucault, maintaining a vestige of the connection between the subject and broader
political economic relations became a major consideration in his later work. This is
indicated by numerous comments in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality,
Volume 1 stressing that the rise of industrial capitalism was not possible without the
profusion of new power relations that subjectivate people and populations in new and
distinct ways (Foucault, 1990, pages 114, 140 ^ 142; 1995, pages 164, 174 ^ 175; see also
Fontana and Bertani, 2003; Foucault, 2007, pages 48 ^ 49). Thus, in what follows, we
detail the resonances between Gramsci's conceptualisations of hegemony and ideology,
and Foucault's discussion of governmentality and power. Following this, we concentrate on some of the `productive tensions' between their work, through concentrating
on their conception of the `social' and political struggle.
4 Resonances and tensions
Gramsci's conceptualisation of hegemony is widely considered to be his preeminent
contribution to political theory. Transforming earlier conceptions, Gramsci's development of hegemony has two related facets. First, hegemony refers to the maintenance of
one social group's dominance over subordinate groups, accomplished through relations
of consent and coercion (Gramsci, 1971; pages 144; 148; 152; 155; 161; 169; 180).
Maintaining hegemony over subordinate social groups raises the second dimension
of his conceptualisationthe necessity of reproducing the social relations that are
foundational to a given social formation [see Gramci's writings on `Americanism and
Fordism' (1971, pages 277 ^ 316); see also Kipfer (2002)]. These two facets of hegemony
are achieved through active moral and intellectual leadership throughout the state ^
civil society nexus. However, this should be thought of in explicitly material terms, and
includes both elevating the material basis of `society' and a material reworking of
ideology (Gramsci, 1971, pages 60, 161; for discussion of this aspect of his work see
Cox, 1981; Femia, 1981; Hall, 1988; Hall et al, 1977; Jessop, 1988; 1990; 1997; Mouffe,
As many writers have noted (Jessop, 1982; 1990, Showstack-Sasoon, 1980; Simon, 1991),
the state is absolutely crucial to Gramsci's understanding of hegemony. In a characteristically dialectical move, Gramsci shows the state to be both centralised and diffuse.
Transforming the Hegelian distinction between state and civil society, Gramsci draws
our attention to the relations through which state and civil society are woven together.

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


In one of his clearest statements of the `proper' relation between state and civil society,
he contrasts the situation in the East, in which the Bolsheviks had just succeeded in
seizing state power, with the quite different situation in the West:
``In the East the State was everything, civil society was primordial and gelatinous; in
the West, there was a proper relation between State and civil society, and when the
state trembled, a sturdy structure of civil society was at once revealed. The State
was only an outer ditch, behind which there stood a powerful system of fortresses
and earthworks: more or less numerous from one state to the next, it goes without
sayingbut this precisely necessitated an accurate reconnaissance of each individual
country'' (1971, page 238).
Rather than relying on coercion as the sole means of consolidating rule, the ruling
class, operative throughout the integral state, works to develop acquiescence to its rule
through the system of fortresses and earthworks lying behind [and sometimes in front
of (Gramsci, 1971, page 244)] the outer ditch of its own institutions. Thus, Gramsci
urges us to think through the many ways in which power is consolidated in institutions
normally considered outside of the state: in ``so called private initiatives'' (page 258);
through intellectuals (pages 5 ^ 23); and through ``the Church, the trade unions, the
schools, etc'' (footnote 56). We might add to this, and will do so more explicitly later,
the provision of water services.
If Gramsci invites us to consider the role of the integral state as it reaches into the
intimacies of the modern home and `private institutions', this has clear resonances with
Foucault's concerns with governmentality as a form of dispersed rule. Whilst clearly
Gramsci wanted to avoid reifying the state through constantly historicising its existence, Foucault (2003, page 31) stressed that ``it is important not to, so to speak,
deduce power by beginning at the centre and trying to see how far down it goes, or
to what extent it is reproduced or renewed in the most atomistic elements of the
society.'' Thus, Foucault's starting point was not the state, but rather the dispersed
practices and knowledges that constituted everyday forms of rule. In an ascending
analysis, these constitute the state (2003, pages 27 ^ 31). For Foucault, these micropractices are lost if political and social theory begins from the centre, assuming the
sovereign power of the state: hence his repeated plea to ``cut off the head of the king''
(1990, pages 88 ^ 89). Foucault's intervention is not to deny the existence of the state
(although he does not take it as given), but, rather, an attempt to decentre it through
beginning with the diverse set of relations that constitutes the basis of modern forms of
rule (for a discussion see Jessop, 2007).
For Foucault, then, government is understood famously as the `conduct of conduct'.
It refers to a field of action between heterogeneous relations of power and states of
outright domination (Foucault, 2000a; 2000b; Hindness, 1996; Lemke, 2002). As
numerous commentators have pointed out, acts of governing are intimately tied to
rationalities of government that provide a dominant logic which is repeatedly enacted
and challenged: hence the term `governmentality' (Dean, 1999; Joyce, 2003; Lemke,
2001; 2002; Rose, 1996). However, the relationality of the concept clearly runs deeper
than rationalities of government and includes material relations (Barry et al, 1996;
Burchell, 1991; 1996; Elden, 2007a; Deleuze, 1988; Gordon, 1991; Lemke, 2001; 2002).
In Foucault's (2000a; page 209) words: ``the things which in this sense government is
to be concerned with are in fact men [sic], but men in their relations, and their
links, their imbrication with those things that are wealth, resources, means of subsistence.'' In this respect, government concerns shaping the conduct of individuals in
accordance with the pursuit of state strength internally and externally vis-a-vis other
states, which necessarily involves the smooth functioning of economic processes
(Burchell, 1991; Elden, 2007b; Foucault, 1981; 1990; 1995; 2000a; 2003). Whilst Foucault


M Ekers, A Loftus

was not explicitly concerned with the problematic of hegemonyand on the surface
much of his writing on governmentality is targeted at the consensus ^ coercion couplet
(see Lemke, 2002) (4) he did acknowledge that relations of power and truth operated
within a broader form of social, cultural, and economic hegemony (Foucault, 2000c,
page 133). Thus, Foucault's attempt to radically reframe how we think of governmentby
pointing out the dispersion of governmental relations throughout the social bodymight
be seen to have antecedents in Gramsci's work on the integral state.
Understanding the form and function of the state has been crucial to much of the
recent work in contextualising the relationship between water and power. However,
understanding the state through the lens of Gramsci and Foucault necessitates a much
closer analysis of the ways in which hegemony is established in the politics of everyday
life, or, in Foucault's words, through the `conduct of conduct', at specific moments and
in specific places. While the tropes of hegemony and governmentality set the context
for the arenas in which politics happens and what is at stake in political practice
specifically the dominance of one social group, the maintenance of social relations,
and individual conduct they do not reveal how political power is exercised. To answer
this question we have to look at Gramsci's development of ideology and Foucault's
discussion of power.
For Gramsci the achievement of hegemony is accomplished through ideological
practices that shape individuals' beliefs and actions. Thus, in trying to understand the
support for Mussolini (although Gramsci remains ambivalent as to whether or not this
is genuinely hegemonic), Gramsci found it necessary to get to grips with ideology as an
active force rather than as a veil of false consciousness. This active ideological force
relies on a conscious attachment to certain core elements of a particular society. Rather
than being cultivated through `sanctions' or `compulsory obligations', hegemony implies
a far deeper attachment to a particular way of thinking and acting, what Gramsci
(1971, page 242) describes as ``a new conformism from below''. Hall's (1978; 1984; Hall
and Jacques, 1983) extended analyses of Thatcherism in the 1980s capture this particularly well, as he explores the paradoxically populist appeal of the authoritarian rule
established by Thatcher.
Lived practices are crucial to the material view of ideology adopted by Gramsci.
Again, the particular `worldview' being established through the integral state is not a
form of false consciousness adopted by an otherwise passive, oppressed people. On this
point, we would argue, Barnett's critique (and his suggestion that the rapprochement of
Gramscian and Foucauldian approaches leaves unanswered the question of how power
`gets at' particular people), albeit fair on some of his victims, is not fair on Gramsci.
Barnett seems to assume that marxist approaches necessarily imply a sense in which
people are duped, through ideologies that are always connected to the powerful.
However, this overlooks important debates within marxism that stress the material
functioning of ideology, extending from Marx's writing on the fetishism of the commodity (Marx, 1977) through Lukacsian approaches to reification (Lukacs, 1971), to the
Frankfurt School (Marcuse, 1991) and more recent writings on the struggle against
fetishisation as process (Holloway, 2002). In our final discussion, we argue that the
apparently banal act of collecting water is an important example of how material
(4) Lemke (2002, page 52) explains that, for Foucault, ``coercion and consensus are reformulated
as means of government among others; they are rather `effects' or `instruments' rather than
the `foundation' or `source' of power relationships.'' It should be noted that Gramsci utilised the
analytics of consent and coercion to describe multiple social relations ranging from the influence of
one individual on another, to relations associated with religion, education, and policing. In addition, Gramsci's treatment of consent and coercion did not exclusively revolve around organizing
the legitimacy of the sovereign or the state.

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


practices and ideas come to be interwoven. In Gramsci's terms, ideologies are formed
``through everyday experience illuminated by `common sense' '' (Gramsci, 1971, page 199).
Common sense refers to the sedimented and at times contradictoryideologies
through which people act in the world. However, as with Marx (1974, pages
421 ^ 423), this is a dialectic process: both reality and thought are shaped by sensuous
activitythe working, the playing, and the making of socionatures. In turn, the ideas
shaped in this process have a material force of their own, serving to reshape reality
in particular ways. Such a material reading of ideology need fall into neither a
crude economism nor a crude discursive determinism. Rather, it is the socionatural
relationshipswhich contain immanent cultural, symbolic, political, and economic
relationsthat are of the greatest importance for establishing dominant worldviews
at particular moments.
Foucault certainly had apprehensions about marxist versions of ideologymany of
which we would share (whilst noting that marxism is a terrain of debate and not a singular
canon (5) ). First, he argued that the juxtaposition of ideology to some deeper truth missed
how `truth' always operated within discourses and practices, generating specific effects.
This negates the neat categorisation of certain ideas and practices as true or untrue.
Second, he was sceptical that ideology should ``stand in a secondary position relative to
something that functions as its infrastructure, as its material, economic determinant''
(Foucault, 2000c, page 119). As can be discerned from our discussion of Gramsci's
development of ideology above, he certainly escapes many of Foucault's critiques. Nonetheless, we cannot avoid the fact that Foucault built his conceptualisation of power in
opposition to `marxist' understandings of ideology, his principle target being Althusser's
(1971) ``Ideology and ideological state apparatuses''.(6)
Contrasting his own with such work, Foucault (2000b) explained that one of
the central concerns underlying his oeuvre remained the subject and techniques
of subjectivation; the development of his understanding of power was a means of
approaching these questions. Moreover, through processes of subjectivation, diverse
forms of government are actually enacted. Foucault (2000b, page 331) explains that
``there are two meanings of the word subject: subject to someone else by control and
dependence, and tied to his [sic] own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both
meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to.'' In this
respect, power is a relational concept in that there is no autonomous subject; rather,
subjects exist only in relation to other people, institutions, the state, the factory, and so
on (2000a). Importantly, power ``is not something that can be divided between those
that have it and hold on to it exclusively'' and those who do not (2003, page 29); it is
diffuse and circulates through the social body in a myriad of relations that are considered to be productive. By productive, Foucault has in mind the making of subjects/
bodies, truths, institutions, etc, all of which are part-and-parcel of his ascending
analysis of the state. But how does power operate? Butler (1993, page 9) explains that
``there is no power that acts, but only a reiterated acting that is power in its persistence
and instability.'' In this respect, then, power refers to the continual repetition and
challenging of particular regulatory ideals and practices, which are mutually imbricated in each other. As Montag (1995, page 73) argues, for Foucault, ``knowledges are
in no way exterior to power relations, caused by them only finally to transcend them;
rather, they can only be understood as immanent in the materiality of practices and
It is almost a cliche, but worth remembering, that, up until his death, Marx himself steadfastly
refused to be labelled a `Marxist'.
(6) For a brilliant discussion of the similarities and differences between Foucault's Discipline and
Punish and Althusser's ``Ideology and ideological state apparatus'', see Montag (1995).


M Ekers, A Loftus

Towards the end of the 1970s Foucault's project begins to change, and the concept
of biopower enters into his conceptual repertoire. Up until this period, Foucault
was concerned with the application of disciplinary technologies at the level of the individual and the body (Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1982; Foucault, 1995). Both biopower and
governmentality arise in Foucault's theorisations as a complement to individualising
techniques, in order to address relations of power which take the population as the
principle target of regulation (Foucault, 1990; 2003). Lazzarato (2004) suggests that
biopower holds a special place in Foucault's conceptual repertoire, insofar as the
distinction between the polis and bios is deliberately dismantled thus giving rise to a
new ontology. In this new political ecological ontology, making life in certain forms
becomes the operating principle. This involves the investment, administration, and
control of both life and the population more generally. What is at stake is an attempt
to bring regularity and equilibrium to both lives in themselves and to the general social
order (Elden, 2007a; Foucault, 1980; 2003; Hardt and Negri, 2000; Lazzarato, 2004).
It is important to stress that, in The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Foucault (1990,
page 171) was at pains to maintain that ``biopower was without question an indispensable element in the development of capitalism''. He added that not only did capitalism
need the proliferation and controlled insertion of docile bodies, but also ``it had to have
methods of power capable of optimizing forces, aptitudes, and life in general without at
the same time making them more difficult to govern.'' Importantly, capitalism is not
seen to be determining here; rather the practice of biopower becomes an important
element in the development of capitalism; in Foucault's (1994, page 379, as quoted by
Fontana and Bertani, 2003, page 277) words: ``all these power relations do not ...
emanate from a single source; it is the overall effect of a tangle of power relations
that allows one class or group to dominate another.'' Thus, biopower is far from
reducible to capitalist political economy, but it is intimately related to its development.
In a characteristic move, Foucault shifts our attention to the practices.
Here we encounter once again what is, potentially, one of the principal points of
connection between Foucault and Gramsci. Both have a deep appreciation for how
ideas and types of knowledge are immanent within the materiality of practices and
apparatuses. Thus, Gramsci and Foucault can provide us with an appreciation of how
specific rationalities of government and ideologies are internalised within hospitals,
cities, and, for our own purposes, produced waterscapes. Moreover, from a Foucauldian
perspective, this entails managing the conduct of people and their relations with the
material world, customs, beliefs, and ways of acting and thinking. From a Gramscian
perspective, water infrastructure can be considered part of the hegemonic apparatus
through which forms of `common sense', in support of a specific group's interests, come
to be constituted.
Overall, whilst Foucault and Gramsci deploy different conceptualisations of power
in their work, in both cases power circulates throughout the socionatural fabric. For
Foucault, this is clearly an explicit part of his work, which cannot be said to be true for
Gramsci. A circulatory understanding of power is, however, implicit within Gramsci's
oeuvre. As Eagleton (1991, page 116) notes, Gramsci tries to understand how ``power is
to remain conveniently invisible, disseminated throughout the texture of social life and
thus `naturalized' as custom, habit, spontaneous practice.'' Even if Eagleton highlights
the circulatory nature of power, his comment also indicates that there is something
ostensibly real about power that can be wilfully deployed and achieved. It is on this
point that Foucault's assertions to the contrary come to mind and we glean a difference in the two theorists' conceptualisations. The point of convergence is that both
theorists insist on the historical specificity of the operation of power, as can be seen in

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


Foucault's detailed genealogical studies and Gramsci's close examinations of historical

As the above review begins to open up, while certain parts of Gramsci's and
Foucault's work resonate with one another, there are significant tensions that should
not be overlooked. On the surface there are manyFoucault's vehement anticommunism differs so markedly from many of Gramsci's theorisations of the new role of the
party, for example. However, beyond these somewhat superficial differences, we discover more significant tensions. Nevertheless, rather than seeing these tensions as
debilitating, perhaps they can be used productively, as points of departure for new
areas of research. Rather than a closed analytical model, such tensions might prise
open new terrains for engaged praxis.
One of the principle differences between the approaches lies in how one conceives
of the `social' (see Hennessy, 1993; Laclau and Mouffe, 1985). Gramsci's dialectical
approach suggests an understanding of the social that is internally related and determining, which means various economic, political, and cultural relations come to affect
one another whilst congealing as a differentiated whole (1971, page 400; see also Hall,
1980). In contrast, the advocates of poststructuralism such as Deleuze (1988) celebrate
Foucault's conception of the social as discontinuous and fragmented, meaning that
specific relations and knowledges are highly independent of one another and therefore
not mutually constitutive. Moreover, Foucauldian approaches stress the manner in
which notions such as `the social' or `society' can be dangerous abstractions: they elide
the specificities of subjugated practices (Burchell, 1991; Foucault, 2003). Nonetheless,
as we began to see above, lurking in the background of Foucault's insistence on the
discontinuous nature of the social and his genealogical methodology (Foucault, 1998a;
1998b) is an acknowledgment of the way in which dispersed techniques of power are
connected to such things as the rise of industrial capitalism (Foucault, 1990; 1995) and
state strength (Foucault, 1981; 2003). As Foucault (2003, page 24) reflected in Society
Must Be Defended: ``in a society such as oursor in any society, come to that
multiple relations of power traverse, characterize, and constitute the social body.''
Additionally, as Jessop (2007) writes, Foucault ``showed how the economy and the
state were increasingly organised in conformity with key features of capitalist political
economy without ever being reducible thereto and without these features in turn being
fully pre-given.'' This hanging on to a relational understanding of the social is indicative of Balibar's (1992, page 42) claim that ``the whole of Foucault's work can be
viewed in terms of a genuine struggle with Marx'', and his assertion that Foucault is
the most marxist when he is not talking about Marx.
In a slightly different vein, whilst some see this vestige of a relational ontology as
a blight in Foucault's otherwise brilliant genealogical approach (see, for example,
Donnelly, 1992), we see this as an important bridging point between Foucault and
Gramsci. If the relational dimension of Foucault's work is developed, we can gain
an appreciation for the connections between techniques of subjection and broader
hegemonic projects. In many ways, this seems to be the direction in which Foucault
was moving in his later lectures and writings. In relation to produced waterscapes
and everyday interactions with water, Foucault provides us with the resources and
vocabulary for understanding how specific subjectivities are enacted and the `how'
of government. Future research on the politics of water might be considerably invigorated through greater attention to the enactment of liberal government in the daily
processes through which water is accessed. At the same time, it might provide a
concrete example of the contradictions of liberal government in a period of ongoing
primary accumulation.


M Ekers, A Loftus

How the social fabric is conceptualised has important consequences for how
politics is conceived. If the social fabric is seen as fragmented and discontinuous, it
becomes difficult to conceptualise political struggles that are not trapped in the local.
[At the same time, although focusing on the specificities of resistances, Foucault is also
prone to some fairly sweeping generalisations about the nature of struggles as evidenced in his threefold categorisation of centuries of struggle (see 2000b)]. In contrast,
if various parts of the socionatural world are considered internally related, it becomes
possible to envision political practice that brings together coalitions cutting across
different spatialities and positionalities. For Gramsci, politics revolves around struggle,
something he considers to be socially constitutive. Generally, this has been taken to
mean the class struggle, even though Gramsci's work was a move against economistic
understandings of the social and within his work there is ample scope for exploring
nationalist and religious contestations. Foucault, in contrast, is often considered to
derogate the role of struggle (Driver, 1985). As Said (1986; see also Fraser, 1981)
complained, Foucault's ``imagination of power is largely within rather than against
it''. For Driver (1985, page 443), however, the assumed derogation of struggle within
Foucault's work is more generally ``designed to undermine grand assertions of the
primacy and inevitability of the `struggle' of the proletariat, and to illuminate the whole
panoply of local and concrete struggles which surround our everyday lives.'' Once
again, we might be able to use one body of thought to gain a different take on the
other. Taking this dialogue forward through concrete, historical examples is the task we
would like to propose. As part of this agenda we hope to provide some suggestive
starting points in section 5.
5 Taking the dialogue forward
At the outset, we asked whether everyday relations to water contribute to the maintenance of hegemony and the continuance of subtle forms of rule. Gramsci and
Foucault, we suggested, are particularly apt theorists for addressing this question. In
order to illustrate this possibility, and outline the contours of a new research agenda,
we now revisit themes discussed in section 1 of the paper. In so doing, we recast and
reevaluate the literature on water and social power in light of our discussion of
Gramsci and Foucault. We will argue that an engagement with these theorists simultaneously broadens and specifies the analytic framework through which the relationship
between water and power is interpreted. In this regard, we focus on:
. How struggles for legitimacy conducted through water infrastructure might be
more clearly specified through an engagement with a reworked conception of
. How this might be linked to a more explicit theorisation of the state in work on
water and social power. Here, we argue that state theory is a spectre (an elephant
in the room?) that haunts much of the literature on water and social power. And
yet it is never stated with the precision that we might expect.
. Necessarily, the above points require far greater specificity as to how power is
enacted. Here we focus on everyday hydraulic practices and their links to broader
questions of power. Whilst much of the literature reviewed in section 2 has been
strong on power it has been less clear on how this `works'.
. Finally, we return to the tensions between Gramscian and Foucauldian perspectives over the question of struggle and look at what additional light this sheds
on the literature on water struggles.
We conclude this section, first, with a set of methodological questions and, second, by
emphasising the tremendous conceptual resources available here for theorising the
urbanisation of capitalist hegemony.

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


One of the great contributions of recent scholarship on water and urbanity has
been to shift debates over water provision from a narrow technocratic ground to rich
political and ecological terrains. As reviewed in section 2 of the paper, much of this
scholarship has demonstrated how water engineering is turned to as a means of
developing the moral, cultural, and political legitimacy of certain forms of rule. In
the focus on legitimacy, the literature develops concerns closely related to those of
Gramsci and Foucault. There is an implicit understanding of hegemony at work,
insofar as the literature demonstrates how superiority over subordinate groups is
established and legitimised (see Gandy, 2002; Kaika, 2005; Swyngedouw, 2007). However, this understanding remains implicit. For quite understandable reasons the
primary aim of this work is to open up discussion of the socionatural in a nuanced,
politicised manner hegemony is not discussed in precise terms. Whilst developing
valuable new terrains of debate, this leaves key questions unanswered: without some
understanding of the operation of hegemony, it is surprisingly difficult to move from
the grand displays of power represented in large-scale engineering works to the more
subtle ways in which power works through everyday hydraulic practices. In contrast,
through transforming Gramsci's understanding of hegemony from a social to a socionatural concept, as recent contributions to Gramscian political ecologies have done
(Ekers et al, 2008), we are able to develop an understanding of how the aforementioned
struggles for legitimacy are hegemonic struggles that might be waged within and
through the waterscape. Alliances between and within specific groups are forged through
the provision of water to certain areas, through billing procedures, and through subtle
consensus-building practices operating through the water network.
In order to bring to light the shift in the analytic perspective we are advancing, it is
worthwhile revisiting Swyngedouw's (1997a; 1999; 2004a; 2007) pathbreaking work.
Swyngedouw's (2007) insistence on the scalar dimensions of the Spanish waterscape,
and the `networks of interest' that have regional, national, and international dimensions, indicates how flows of power operate in a multiscalar fashion. Legitimacy,
however, remains anchored in governmental institutions. Power is largely a `thing'
that certain groups have and others do not (Swyngedouw, 2004a), even if the possession of power by certain groups is exercised in a circulatory way through a variety of
conduits. In this latter respect, power works to consolidate hegemony for particular
groups. This understanding of power approaches that of Gramsci. For Gramsci, the
achievement of power, or, in other words, the taking of power, is the political task of
subaltern groups (for examples, see notes on The Modern Prince, 1971, pages 125 ^ 205).
Achieving hegemony through a long-term war of position is crucial in countering the
subversive operation of power through the integral state. If we shift our lens from
power as a thing that is held to power as productive, in the sense of materialising a
reiterated norm, then we must instead enquire into the production of specific subjects
and customs and beliefs. This generates questions around how the reengineering of the
waterscape affects the ways in which an individual enters into collective life. What are
the other ideologies that are displaced and merged in the process? And what are the
contradictions of this process? To draw on Foucault, and yet bring him into conversation with Swyngedouw's (2007) work, what are the specific techniques of power that
Franco colonises in order to produce acquiescent subjects? For instance, is there a
reconfiguration of disciplinary techniques of power that individuate people and of
biopolitical techniques that ``optimize forces, aptitudes and life in general'' (Foucault,
1994, page 379, as quoted by Fontana and Bertani, 2003, page 277)? Answering these
questions is difficult, but in order to do so we need to consider power as an effect
of dispersed socionatural relations in addition to power, normatively understood, as
something that someone has. Doing so would arguably elucidate the specific techniques


M Ekers, A Loftus

of power through which Franco's hegemony is enacted or not. The key research issue
thereby becomes establishing the connections between the specificities of power and
broader questions around hegemony.
In doing this, we argue that questions of the state may also be developed further. In
a strange paradox, although the legitimacy achieved through hydrosocial engineering
is a central focus of the literature on water and social power, the state is rarely discussed.
This is in spite of nuanced and theoretically sophisticated discussions of state theory
in other aspects of several of the protagonists' work.(7) Engaging with the work
of Gramsci and Foucault permits a considered discussion of the form and function of
the state that fits surprisingly well with the work already conducted on water politics.
Gramsci's two-headed conception of the integral stateseen to be both centralised
and dispersedsynergises well with the discussion of power developed above. His
insistence on analytics that begin from `below' permits an understanding of the state
that emanates from the taps, the pipes, and the plumbing, whilst documenting the links
between the subtle operation of state power and the workings of everyday life. The
attention to Foucault's paradoxically antistatist genealogies of the state (Driver, 1985;
Jessop, 2007) might also serve as a fecund ground for developing an understanding of
state practices, as opposed to centralised state powerexactly the kind of analysis that
work on water and social power demands. At times, the literature on water treats the state
as if it is a real entity that facilitates and imposes changes in the water sector (see, for
example, Bakker, 2002; Bond, 2002; McDonald and Pape, 2002). Gramsci and Foucault
turn this conception on its head through detailing how the state is constantly reproduced
out of changing water practices. Indeed, if a theorisation of the state is implicit in much of
the literature, it is almost certainly a Poulantzean conception. As Jessop (2007) notes in a
recent discussion, and as Driver (1985) noted earlier, Poulantzas provides a vital connection between a Foucauldian genealogy of the state and the sort of nuanced historical
materialist position possible from Gramsci's work. Once again, the waterscape provides a
surprisingly rich terrain over which such a theorisation might be explored.
If Foucault's genealogies of the state begin from the sets of practices that are
stabilised in specific moments, Gramsci similarly urges us to specify the material
ways in which hegemony comes to be established. It is vital, therefore, to specify
the way in which power is enacted. Barnett's (2005) rhetorical trapas he states that
recent work on neoliberalisms fails to specify how power `gets at' peopleneeds to be
answered through looking at the way in which this power is enacted at particular
moments through material practices. Our starting point in this might be Kaika's
(2003; 2004; 2005) highly suggestive work in which she is able to move between overt
expressions of state power, in the form of large-scale dam projects, and the politics of
domestic practices. It becomes clear that both water and the practices that are associated with water provision serve to distribute power through the capillaries of the
water network. By bringing Gramsci's theorisation of everyday practices together with
a Foucauldian emphasis on knowledge, practices, and power, further nuanced understandings of the day-to-day acts of provisioning a household with water or paying a bill
to a newly privatised water company might be made possible. Importantly, this implies
a movement between the infrastructural sites that have captured the attention of many
of the theorists of the contemporary waterscapefrom the iconographies of large
dams to the vast interbasin transfers achieved under demagogic forms of rule and
some of the more intimate practices within the home, within the government office,
and so on. Just as Kipfer (2008) and others have sought to reassert the importance
of the everyday in Gramsci's work, we would seek a dialogue with Foucault over the

Swyngedouw's (1997b; 2004b) work on `glocalisation' is a classic example here.

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


materialities and the practices of everyday waterscapes. We see indications of this type
of research in Kaika's reflections on how the (re)engineering of water associated with
the rise of modernity transformed gendered practices in the home.(8) The connections
that Kaika makes are more empirical and historical rather than theoretical. Thus,
Gramsci and Foucault might provide the theoretical tools through which more direct
connections might be made between the twin `scales' of research in Kaika's work.
It should be clear that, far from arguing that recent debates over water and social
power exclude many of these concerns, the concerns which the literature already opens
up might be reanimated by an explicit engagement with the Foucault ^ Gramsci problematic. Gandy's (2005; 2006a; 2006b; 2006c) work is another interesting case in point.
In the first instance, Gandy uses the cyborg metaphor to understand the material
interface between the body and the city: the cyborg permits us to consider the ``abstract
and inter-subjective realm through which political and cultural ideas become constituted
or `fleshed out' in parallel with the concrete development of the city'' (2005, page 38).
In making this argument, Gandy illustrates how discourses become articulated in the
infrastructure of the city and cyborg bodies. In this respect, we begin to see how
power as a set of relations that subjectivates peopleis immanent to urban infrastructure. In the second instance, Gandy's (2006a; 2006b; 2006c) more recent work
looks at how a Foucauldian understanding of power allows us to understand the
constitution of the modern subject and everyday life in relation to the physical infrastructure of cities and discourses of hygiene and sanitation. This would seem to go to the
core of several of the substantive arguments we have sought to make in this paper.
It is worth considering what the political and analytical stakes in adopting this
more explicitly poststructural position might be. Gandy (2006b; 2006c) is well aware
of the difficult political commitments that follow from some of the key premises of
French poststructualist thought, noting that it is a slippery slope from Foucault and
Deleuze to the liberalism of Hayek. He adds that theoretical implications of both
Foucault and Deleuze remain vague in relation to the practical dilemmas of urban
Realpolitik at the scale of an entire city or metropolitan region. Perhaps there is
something to be gained in bringing Gramscian thought to these questions. In the last
section, we saw how Gramsci provides a rejoinder to Foucault's (in spite of himself )
totalising theory of power, critiqued by the likes of Said and Fraser. In particular,
Gramsci never gave up hope in the possibility of transformative politics, poignantly
captured in the oft-quoted phrase advocating for ``the pessimism of the intellect and
optimism of the will''. At times Foucault appears to give up on ``the optimism of the
will'', and hence Gandy is challenged to find the basis for a broad-based political
project within Foucault's work. As suggested in the previous section, Gramsci's insistence on the relational understanding of the social and the constitutive role of struggle
may provide a means for Gandy to advance his political claims. Grasmci's writings on
`the Southern question' show a deep concern with how to forge common alliances
of interest between the Southern peasantry and the industrial proletariat of the
North. This is also evident in Gramsci's repeated reflections on the city and the country:
these examine the processes through which differences come to be articulated and
woven into a historic bloc. The need for a workable understanding of the public realm
might also be explored through Gramsci's writings. Indeed, his appreciation of how

Similar connections between broad infrastructure projects, legitimacy, and the microgeographies
of the home are made in Kaika's writings on Athens. She explains that when the taps ran dry in
Athens in the early 1990s this disrupted the autonomy of the modern home and revealed the
constellation of political, economic, and ecological relations through which tap water was produced and consumed. The drying up of household water taps was used as a political leverage point
through which consent for tariff increases and dam projects was exacted.


M Ekers, A Loftus

hegemony is achieved through advancing the material basis of society in addition to

more recent attempts at understanding how ideologies are embodied and expressed
within urban infrastructurecould provide a firmer basis from which to advance claims
about the need to develop a public realm in a city of fragmentation and difference
(Gandy, 2006b; 2006c).
One final area in which we think research might be further enlivened is around the
strategic and tactical possibilities of political struggles. To date, much of the work on
water and social power has sought to prise open the panoply of struggles that do exist
around water in daily life. Whilst gendered, `racial', and `ethnic' struggles have been
crucial subjects of empirical investigations, so also have been class struggles. Political
economic questions have never lost their salience within historical materialist
approachesstill perhaps dominant within work on water and power. The reasons
for this are both obvious and yet important: in the vast majority of capitalist societies,
the struggle for access to water remains one revolving around the ability of some to be
able to pay and the inability of others. More recently, this struggle has been heightened
by the easing of restrictions on the ability of some to be able to profit, in monetary
terms, from the difficulties some encounter in accessing water. Water struggles are
inevitably defined in class terms. Invariably, they cannot be extricated from capital
circulation and a capitalist system of accumulation, so central to class positionality.
If, however, to pick up on this insight, there is any tendency towards reductionism in
historical geographical materialist approaches, perhaps it might be challenged through
Foucault's questioning of the primacy of ``the good old logic of `contradiction' ''
(Foucault, 1980, page 164). Here, a more recent focus on how class, gender, and racial
struggles intersect and articulate with previous historical geographies is crucial. At the
same time, Foucault's frequently totalising view of power might be challenged through
the concrete examples of revolts against techniques of power provided by work on
water politics (see, for example, Bond, 2004; Debbane and Keil, 2004; Desai, 2002;
Loftus and Lumsden, 2008). Rather than derogating the role of struggle, therefore, an
engagement with Foucault serves to prise struggles open still further. Indeed, we might
seek to unpick the many ways in which a water politics serves to universalise through
its coverage of more and more peoplewhilst also individualising, as more and more
households are isolated through their inability to pay. In different ways, both Laurie's
(2005) and O'Reilly's (2006) work offers suggestive insights into these individualising
practices and how such natural resource interventions serve to generate gendered
subjectivities. Struggles against and within these practices enliven both sets of research.
As this discussion has sought to illustrate, some of the most exciting research
around urban water provision contains threads of research closely akin to the concerns
that preoccupied Gramsci and Foucault. We can see this in the discussions of the
legitimising role of water and the changing practices of everyday access to water.
Bringing the new wave of literature on water and social power together with a theoretical
engagement with Gramsci and Foucault has the potential to fundamentally deepen our
understanding of the urbanisation of hegemony. Thus far, those debates that have sought
to urbanise Gramsci in productive ways have been theoretical in orientation. This brings
us to a final point concerning the fecundity of the recent literature on water. Deploying
Gramsci and Foucault in order to understand the empirical studies of the sociopolitical ^
economic aspects of water provides a concrete means of exploring the enactment of
urban hegemony and governmentalities. Perhaps the greatest obstacle in pursuing this
type of research is in navigating the tricky methodological terrain. Paying attention to
broad political, economic, cultural, and ecological relations and understanding how
these are articulated, expressed, and resisted in the ideologies and techniques of power
of everyday life is no easy task. Perhaps this begins to explain the historical orientation

The power of water: developing dialogues between Foucault and Gramsci


to much of the research. It has often been more productive to contemplate the longue
duree over which such relations have transformed than it has been to look outwards
from the present moment. Nonetheless, we think there are many reasons for undertaking this kind of research. There is the possibility that we bring into focus the
contradictory ideologies expressed in everyday customs and behaviours. Foucault
(1981) urges us to consider the microtechniques of power that must be challenged as
part of a broader political project, something he was certainly not always averse to
considering. In identifying the fragments of ideologies expressed in everyday practices,
and in identifying peoples' challenges to techniques of power both disciplinary and
biopoliticalwe can see the contradictions of a hegemonic project. It is from within
these contradictions and tensions that new societies might be envisioned and fought
for. Indeed, such work can build upon the immanent critiques at work in people's
everyday lives and everyday practices.
To sum up, what Gramsci and Foucault bring to the table is a set of conceptual and
political resources through which we can gather up the provocative threads of research
already undertaken and take them forward through a nuanced analytical framework.
Gramsci and Foucault ask us to build bridges between wider questions of legitimacy
and hegemony and specific, subjectifying practices and techniques of power. Lastly, the
two theorists pose difficult questions around what can be concluded from sites of
resistance to socially unjust changes in the water sector: we are forced, for example,
to question whether struggles against water privatisation might be celebrated as a
part of broader hegemonic stuggles or simply as revolts against disciplinary forms of
power. This is more than a theoretical question, but Gramsci and Foucault force us to
interrogate the political conclusions we draw from these concrete struggles.
6 Conclusions
While this paper is situated at the intersection of two different debates, it is an attempt
to push two different discussions forward through reciprocal synergies. A more direct
engagement with Gramsci and Foucault can potentially serve to explicate many of the
crucial insights that have largely remained implicit in the water literature thus far.
Through revelling in both the tensions and the resonances between Gramsci and
Foucault, we have tried to develop a research agenda around the quotidian ways in
which water and politics are intertwined. We have sought to pose questions about the
complicated relations between grand political economic considerations and the seemingly banal, taken-for-granted act of turning on a tap. On the other hand, we have
unashamedly used water as a heuristic device to explore and push forward debates
concerning the relationship between Gramsci and Foucault. However, it is not enough
to state that the differences between Gramsci and Foucault represent productive
tensions. Rather, these tensions must be made explicit, and we would agree with
Barnett (2005)not finessed away. In doing so, we hope to have steered clear of a
na| ve pluralism while also remaining cognizant of the existing tensions and contradictions that are uncovered through bringing Gramsci and Foucault into conversation
with one another. The overall effect is to further our understanding of capitalist
urbanisation, through illustrating how hegemony is exercised through techniques of
power, imbricated in everyday relations with water. While other scholars have discussed
issues of urbanism and hegemony (Jessop, 1997; Kipfer, 2002; 2008), we would insist
that more attention needs to be paid to the specific practices through which urban
hegemony may or may not be achieved. Thinking politically, Foucault urges us to
consider and challenge the micropolitics of things like urban water provision through
which people are subjectified in specific ways. However, drawing on a Gramscian


M Ekers, A Loftus

sensibility requires us to think about how these specific techniques of power are
connected to everyday practices and broader struggles for hegemony.
To conclude, working through the Gramsci ^ Foucault problematic requires individuals
to make epistemological, ontological, and normative commitments where and when
conflicts arise. The litmus test in terms of epistemological, ontological, and normative
relevance of a Gramscian or Foucauldian approach must surely be more than a
theoretical exercise. Rather, it must depend on the ability of the framework to account
for the untidiness and political struggles of everyday life. In this regard, much of the
work being conducted on water provides both a theoretical environment through which
Gramsci and Foucault might be brought into dialogue, and the situated and grounded
case studies that have often taken geographic research in such fruitful directions.
Through a ceaseless movement between the concrete and the abstract, such work
provides hope not only for reinvigorating theoretical debates but also for shaping
praxis. It provides a material phenomenon through which the micropolitics of power
are connected with broader political ^ economic structures. And it provides specific
practices through which these connections might be subverted, challenged, and reversed.
Through remaining open to potential conversations, tensions, and differences in the
work of Gramsci and Foucault, we feel the academic and political terrain on which
we operate might be transformed in positive and progressive ways.
Acknowledgements. This paper has had a remarkably long gestation. Many have helped it (and us)
along the way. In particular, we would like to thank whilst not holding them in any way
responsible for the content of the paperKaren Bakker, Michelle Buckley, Zuzana Eperjesi,
Olivier Graefe, Andrew Luck, Roger Keil, Stefan Kipfer, Stephanie Rutherford, Erik Swyngedouw,
and three anonymous referees at Society and Space.
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