Toward a Political Ecology of Biosocial Relations. Rethinking the Urban Water Metabolism beyond the City

This working paper examines the concept of metabolism and its potential as a critical analytical lens to study the contemporary city from a political perspective. The paper illustrates how the metabolism concept has been used historically, both as a metaphor to describe the technological, social, political and economic dimensions of human-environment relations, and as a concrete analytical tool to quantify and better understand how flows of matter and energy shape the territorial and spatial configurations of cityscapes. Drawing on the example of the urban water metabolism of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (GAMA), it is argued that contemporary approaches to metabolic analysis should be extended in two ways to increase the integrative potential of the urban water metabolism concept. On the one hand, the paper demonstrates that a political ecology approach is particularly well-suited to illuminate the contested production of urban environments and move beyond a narrow technical, managerial and state-centric focus in research on urban metabolic relations. On the other hand, the paper advocates for an approach to metabolic analysis that views the urban environment not simply as a relatively static exteriority that is produced by dynamic flows of matter, energy and information, but rather as a dynamic, nested and co-evolutionary network of complex biosocial and material relations, which in itself shapes how various metabolisms interact across scales. The paper then concludes by briefly discussing how a combination of metabolic analysis and political ecology research can inform urban water governance. In sum, the paper emphasizes the need for metabolic analysis to remain open to a plurality of different knowledge forms and perspectives, and to remain attentive to the inherently political nature of material and technological phenomena in order to allow for mutually beneficial exchanges between various scholarly communities.

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