Book review: Citizenship and Infrastructure: Practices and Identities of Citizens and the State

edited by Charlotte Lemanski and reviewed by Frances Brill

16 Feb 2021, 3:45 p.m.
Frances Brill

Citizenship and Infrastructure book cover


Book review: Citizenship and Infrastructure: Practices and Identities of Citizens and the State

Edited by Charlotte Lemanski and reviewed by Frances Brill

London: Routledge, 2019; 144 pp.: ISBN 9780367660901, £36.99 (pbk)


In Citizenship and Infrastructure, an edited book on infrastructural citizenship, Lemanski makes two important interventions into urban studies. Firstly, she re-conceptualises citizenship and infrastructure by forcing a reconsideration of how citizenship could – or should – be engaged with, demonstrating clearly the relevance of citizenship-based debates for understanding infrastructure provision. Secondly, and less explicitly, the empirical work included in the collection speaks to the importance and benefits of ‘learning from anywhere’. Cases from India to Uganda demonstrate how new theorisations of infrastructure provision, guided by cases in what might be termed the Global South, have relevance for theorising the state, infrastructure, housing and citizenship anywhere, including in the Global North.

The collection foregrounds infrastructure as a mediating force between the state and citizens (in a broadly conceived way), arguing that it is through infrastructure that people most commonly engage with the role of the state (and vice versa). It is how people come to understand their relationship with and the consequences of the state (see also Lemanski, 2020). For Lemanski, who has been developing this concept through her own work in South Africa, infrastructural citizenship is an analytical framework that speaks to the embodiment of citizenship in infrastructure. The collection therefore makes a timely intervention into urban studies – and geography – during the ‘infrastructure turn’. Departing from traditional ways of analysing infrastructure, and the more recent focus on financing it (see Furlong, 2019), Lemanski re-centres people and their everyday relationships.

In the introduction, Lemanski outlines the ways in which citizenship is embodied within infrastructure, and therefore infrastructure, from water provision to housing, becomes a means by which people interact with the state. It can be, and often is, their first or only interaction with the state, and therefore the materiality of infrastructure comes to define the provision of citizenship. Drawing on the example of state-provided housing for low-income households in South Africa, Lemanski broadens infrastructure to include housing and in doing so demonstrates the ways in which urban housing, especially when part of a national government programme, is an essential infrastructure. What is interesting in the Cape Town case – and which speaks to issues in other cities, such as water provision (see Brookes, 2020) – is that the relationship does not have to be positive. Lemanski shows the tensions in how the state is conceived of and understood by citizens, a reflection of the problems with state-provided housing.

For Silver and McFarlane, the issue is one of citizenship – how do citizenships navigate the margins of cities? This is a longstanding question in urban studies and the social sciences more broadly. For them, drawing from work in Kampala, the integration of infrastructure and citizenship debates enables them to question who has access or rights to the city and how that relates to broader debates of inequality. As they argue: ‘The dialectical relationship between the city, state, citizenship and everyday life in popular neighbourhoods is crucial to the ways in which urbanism is produced and how poverty is shaped and navigated’ (p. 37; see also McFarlane and Silver, 2017). Indeed, unequal access to the city is at the heart of the book and Lemanski’s thesis. Beyond the city, the fractured nature of citizenship has long been understood – the differentiated experiences based on (group or individual) identity. This is particularly evident in McFarlane’s second chapter on the politics of urban sanitation in urban India. He brings to the forefront of discussions the classed and gendered dimensions of infrastructural provision, and in doing so helps to further illustrate the relevance of drawing citizenship debates through an infrastructural lens – and vice versa – in an urban context.

Throughout the book, sub-Saharan Africa proves a fertile location through which to problematise the tensions within infrastructure provision, the relationship with the state and the interaction of these in an urban context. In Johannesburg, Wafer highlights the importance of persistence and continuity for understating the evolution of citizenship through the case of housing. Von Schitzler meanwhile uses the example of Soweto in southern Johannesburg to show how prepaid meters mediate the relationship between the state and citizenships. Again, the idea that the state is seen in a negative way and the limitations of it, relative to the provision of a basic service, speak to the breadth of infrastructural citizenship’s capacity to help theorise the relationship between state and citizenships. Provision is not always successful or seamless, and the discontinuities and issues (seemingly inherent in the provision of infrastructure) speak to the tensions in how citizens relate to the state. What becomes more challenging in places like the UK is questioning how infrastructure provision, once privatised, relates to questions of citizenship. What happens when water outages occur and are the responsibility of a private firm, yet framings of ‘water as a basic right’ highlight outages as a political outcome where the state can shape the situation (see Newham Greens, 2020)?

Continuing the theme of bringing in housing to infrastructure discussions, Peša’s chapter on water, housing and informality in Kitwe speaks more broadly to the relevance of historical debates, and the importance of contextualising the current situation within the historical political-economy of a place and the legacy of colonialism. Part of this, in the context of many African cities, is the role of informality and its space in infrastructure provision. This chapter shows the ways in which some forms of basic necessities can help overcome legacies of informal–formal divides, but that they are not enough – citizenship extends beyond the provision of a single form of infrastructure, even if individual parts become a means by which citizenship can be understood.

Taken as a whole, Citizenship and Infrastructure delivers empirical depth to substantiate Lemanski’s claim that infrastructural citizenship provides an excellent conceptual lens for advancing theories of urban citizenship and infrastructure provision simultaneously. The book demonstrates how expressions of citizenship, as well as citizens’ ideas about what to expect from the state, are enmeshed in the materiality and politics of infrastructure provision. As such, it provides a means of thinking through both old questions of urban studies such as who has the right to the city, and more contemporary queries around informality and inequality, by questioning representations and understandings of state–citizen relations.



Brookes, A (2020) Water supply returning to east London homes after major outage. Newham Recorder, 7 October. Available at: (accessed 10 October 2020).
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Furlong, K (2020) Geographies of infrastructure 1: Economies. Progress in Human Geography 44(3): 572–582. DOI:10.1177/0309132519850913
Google Scholar | SAGE Journals | ISI

Lemanski, C (2020) Infrastructural citizenship: (De)constructing state–society relations. International Development Planning Review 42: 115–125.
Google Scholar | Crossref

McFarlane, C, Silver, J (2017) Navigating the city: Dialectics of everyday urbanism. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 42(3): 458–471.
Google Scholar | Crossref | ISI

Newham Greens (2020) Living in Newham and angry about the water outage? So are we. Twitter, 7 October. Available at: (accessed 8 October 2020).
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