The Relational Materiality of Groundwater

Powis, A. 2021. The Relational Materiality of Groundwater. GeoHumanities. 7 (1), pp. 89-112.

TitleThe Relational Materiality of Groundwater
TypeJournal article
AuthorsPowis, A.

This paper is part of a larger research project which draws out ways of knowing and thinking with groundwater from Chennai, south India. The (under)ground or (sub)terranean environment is a thick and complex, three-dimensional space of “nothing but change,” but whose utility is essential to sustaining urban life above it. This paper looks at multiple, specific, and contradictory ways in which the materiality of groundwater is understood and intervened in. Using the case of the ongoing Chennai Metro Rail construction project, and its disciplinary cultures of representation, I bring attention to the ground and its waters as a composite system in both balance and unrest, and an active, vital component of the city. Through unpacking established concepts of strata, porosity, and pressure, I will cast groundwater not as an objective fact, always pictured by, and relative to, a human subject, but as an actual being which humans (and others beyond) perceive, relate to, and come into contact with. I close by drawing from this account a possible further set of concepts which groundwater generates—dynamic states which are common to human and material life—suggesting that a relational theory of groundwater materiality, based on leaking as opposed to bordering, might better respond to the ways in which groundwater troubles knowledge.

KeywordsChennai, groundwater, hydrogeology, materiality, relationality
Journal citation7 (1), pp. 89-112
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Accepted author manuscript
CC BY 4.0
File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
Publisher's version
CC BY 4.0
File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)
Publication dates
Published online21 Jun 2021
Supplemental file
CC BY 4.0
File Access Level
Open (open metadata and files)

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