Making shit social: combined sewer overflows, water citizenship and the infrastructural commons

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The sewage scandal in England that has been building since around 2018 has foregrounded the otherwise hidden functioning, and embedded logics, of the sewerage system, which normally receive little scrutiny. It has been revealed, through citizen monitoring and public mobilization, that private water companies have been illegally discharging sewage into waterways, via combined sewer overflows, to reduce treatment costs and maximize profits. Funding cuts under austerity have reduced the monitoring and enforcement capacity of regulators, leading to a stark decline in river conditions, likely to be exacerbated by post-Brexit deregulation. Consumers have mobilized in and through the water network itself as active citizens rather than passive customers, conceived here as an act of urban commoning. This chapter nevertheless complicates the prevailing narrative that sewage discharges are the result of a toxic industry alone, situating their overuse in the longer-term demise of the ‘modern infrastructural ideal’, and therefore makes the case for a renewed municipalism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInfrastructuring urban futures
Subtitle of host publicationThe politics of remaking cities
EditorsAlan Wiig, Kevin Ward, Theresa Enright, Mike Hodson, Hamil Pearsall, Jonathan Silver
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherBristol University Press
Number of pages27
ISBN (Electronic)9781529225648
ISBN (Print)9781529225624
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2023


  • sewage
  • commons
  • infrastructure
  • austerity
  • citizenship
  • England

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Manchester Urban Institute


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