Anthony Powis

PhD

Supervisors: Lindsay Bremner, Beth Cullen

Thinking with Groundwater from Chennai: Materials, processes, experimental knowledge

This thesis looks at the multiple, specific and contradictory ways in which the materiality of groundwater is understood and intervened in: different knowledges and knowledge practices as ways of knowing groundwater in Chennai, South India.

First, I ask what groundwater is and how I might approach it. Through a series of case studies, I develop a methodology for researching groundwater, confronting the problem of how to research something I cannot access. By talking to people who access groundwater in different ways, I assemble multiple and contradictory accounts in a way that acknowledges and keeps hold of the intra-active tension between materiality and representation. My means of access are the multiple ways that these interlocuters work with groundwater, as well as my own practices of thinking, drawing and writing as further means of grasping at something always at a distance.

Through this I ask, what knowledges exist? How are these different knowledges co-produced, and how are they enacted or re-inscribed through scienti c, professional and everyday practices? How, therefore, can thinking with groundwater from Chennai help to read changing city and changing climate together? The format is processual and iterative: research methods, analysis and theory co- evolve, and each chapter is an experiment with ways of knowing groundwater.

Throughout these different points of view, it is impossible to say quite what groundwater is, other than a set of relations that move in and between urban climates. These relations appear and are drawn into focus as registers through which to bring together accounts of diverse phenomena and ways of living in conditions of unstable hydrogeological emergence. Instead of a discernible object, I begin to make sense of groundwater as a relational substance; one which is not background to the city’s ongoing reproduction, but is both substantially altered by and co-constitutive of lively urban assemblages.

MORE is a part of Open Studio project run by the School of Architecture + Cities at the University of Westminster to make its design, research and practice-based work available online while it is happening.

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