New Article: City of Water: Port-au-Prince, Inequality, and the Social Meaning of Rain

Claire  Payton's picture

Claire Antone Payton, “City of Water Port-Au-Prince, Inequality, and the Social Meaning of Rain,” Journal of Urban History, 2021.

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ABSTRACT: The history of water infrastructures in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, illuminates the role of the environment in the production of social and political inequality. This article combines original archival research with insights from political ecology and urban anthropology to argue that the circulation of drinking water and flood water was a critical and quotidian form of exchange connecting Haiti’s stratified social hierarchies. A comparative historical analysis of two neighborhoods representative of elite and non-elite communities demonstrates that water infrastructures exacerbated poverty and inequality by facilitating the upward distribution of wealth and the downward distribution of risk. A case study of water politics in the 1970s shows how the Duvalier dictatorship’s technocratic reforms changed urban elites’ expectations of the state and made urban water dynamics a key metric for assessing the presence of the state in daily life. Dominant narratives of urban crisis in Haiti tend to focus exclusively on the challenges posed by unchecked rural-to-urban migration and the demographic expansion of the underclass. This article offers a new angle by uncovering the destructive environmental consequences of elite-driven urban development.