A “mountain of silt” and a Moga (Outlet): Infrastructures of the Political
This talk builds on ethnographic and archival research on one of the world’s largest irrigation infrastructure networks, fed by Himalayan glacial melt, and administered by one of the largest public bureaucracies in Pakistan. It will trace the travels of water from a dam, through canals, into distributaries, then into watercourses, and finally onto agricultural land through outlets, by focusing on two extremities of the network—a dam and a moga (outlet). The moga marks the physical end of the Irrigation Department’s jurisdiction; through it, irrigation water passes from the Department’s control to water users. The Irrigation Department is meant to design outlets to specifications that enable water to flow to a fixed area. But often they are built smaller than that so less water flows through them. Then, among mediations of sociality, political and bureaucratic authority, the exchange of money, and manipulation of silt, the outlet is enlarged, and more water flows onto water users’ fields. The talk conceptualizes “counter-engineering” as a modality of the political. Where recent literature has shown how infrastructures condition behavior, this talk will show how infrastructures create political subjects – whether individual or collective – in a thoroughly engineered geography such as Pakistan’s Punjab.