Waterbodies: flows, space, and other stuff

23. February 2024

CRC 1265 associated researcher Moritz Kasper has done research on domestic water storage in Nairobi, and I, CRC guest researcher Afra Foli, have done research on drainage in Accra. The points of contact were not always obvious. For us, the idea of a waterbody was an interesting entry point to talk about our respective research projects and their (dis)connections. It allowed us to showcase elements that are shared and integral to studies of space, such as relationality, infrastructural mediation, and the other-than-human. It also allowed us to think about different socio-material practices related to water, those that enable flow and those that seek to contain it.

We took this up in our two-hour workshop hosted at the CRC on December 7th with a small group of members. Our objective was to discuss the imperatives, potentials, and limitations of research on the infrastructures, spatialities, and relationalities of water and its different ‘bodies’.

First, I gave a short presentation on my work, particularly my paper-in-progress that looks at plants, sand, and water in the urban river called Kordzor. My approach was to look at the exchanges and interactions between people and plants, sand, and water (the other-than-human). Through a series of pictures I took along the banks of the Kordzor, I talked about these interactions, for example in the form of urban farming, hiding in the bush to smoke marijuana, and digging up sand during the dry season to sell to construction sites. Through these vignettes I showed that we cannot understand the production of space, in the waterway and beyond, without an appreciation of nature as a ‘vibrant dimension of urban life’ (Gandy, 2022, p.113). Its role in the material politics of Accra is evident (at the least) in our response to them.

Moritz then shared from his research on domestic water storage in Nairobi (Kasper & Schramm, 2023), discussing how the 20-liter plastic jerry can, a mainstay in the city, provides many opportunities to discuss the urbanization of water, place-specific hydraulic inequalities, and the broader relations between humans, natures, and technologies. While it is a mundane water storage artefact, it still ‘implies a series of connectivities’ (Gandy, 2004, p.373) since water in all its bodies is constantly in flux and creates connections. Moritz showed how the yellow jerry can – this blatant reminder of good old physical, Euclidean container space – not only tells larger stories of uneven access to and use of water in the city, but is also an entry point into an ever-expanding pluriverse of spaces, spatialities, spatial figures, and topologies that can be utilized to describe and understand the complex infrastructural configurations of urban Africa.

The discussion that followed our presentations was lively. (I attribute this to the power of water as a topic). When asked about the connections between our projects, we described the value of following and thinking through water as the subject of a story. It raises questions around its materiality as well as its spatiality. The most obvious is to think of how water has historically produced territory, and efforts to manage it have always been central to many urbanization processes. It has often been a place for specific other-than-human lifeforms. In an attempt to summarize the remainder of the discussion, I will present it through two questions: What value is there in thinking through the ‘watery’ spaces that emerge in our work? What different value logics are at play when it comes to water and the spaces in which it is accessed? We seemed in agreement that thinking through the spaces of encounter, the interface where water meets other-than-human lifeforms or other stuff, had the potential to reveal spatial regimes and dynamics. For more answers, keep your eyes peeled for forthcoming publications from Kasper M. and Foli A.

Many thanks to the participants for engaging with us and asking insightful questions. We are also grateful to the CRC 1265 for hosting this workshop. My stay at the CRC, and this workshop in particular, was an energizing experience that introduced me to a different approach to the study of space, one that embraced the potential for generalizability. I was also able to discuss and finetune my understanding of other-than-human scholarship with a number of PhDs, which has been extremely valuable for finishing my dissertation. I hope in return that the workshop was of interest to those present, at the very least to emphasize the relevance of situating watery spaces.


Gandy, M. (2004). Rethinking urban metabolism: water, space and the modern city. City8(3), 363-379.

Gandy, M. (2022). Natura urbana: Ecological constellations in urban space. MIT Press.

Kasper, M. and Schramm, S. (2023). Storage city: Water tanks, jerry cans, and batteries as infrastructure in Nairobi. Urban Studies, 60(12), 2400-2417.

Author information: Afra Foli ( was a visiting doctoral fellow at the CRC in November 2023. Her PhD research focuses on the everyday geographies of waste and drainage infrastructure in Accra, Ghana. She is based at the University of Amsterdam.