April 7, 2016: Faculty Lecture
Leila Harris

IRES Seminar Series

Time: 12:30-1:30 pm

Location: AERL Theatre (room 120), 2202 Main Mall

Assessing States, Differentiating Citizens: Perspectives on water services and evolving state-society relations in Accra, Ghana and Cape Town, South Africa


This talk considers everyday assessments of state capacity, service quality and notions of citizen responsibility related to water access and governance across several underserved areas of Cape Town, South Africa and Accra, Ghana. Conceptually and methodologically, I argue that everyday citizen perspectives are key for a critical perspective on state building governance processes. Theoretically, the work speaks to broader interests related to differentiated and uneven services and infrastructures as key to both perceptions regarding the role or legitimacy of the state, as well as individuals’ own senses of responsibility as citizens. The analysis reveals a host of interesting insights related to these connections. Among them, that water quality and satisfaction are linked to trust in government in South Africa, but not to the same degree for Ghana. As well, although a number of indicators of water access and quality appear to be very good in South Africa, there is nonetheless deep contestation related to water services, ongoing senses of dis-enfranchisement, and an unequivocal sense that the government should be doing more. For Ghana, we see a complex portrait where access to and quality of water is important for people’s daily lives, but is perhaps less strongly connected to senses of government responsibility and legitimacy. These results cannot be read at face value, as derivative of service quality, but also must be read against other key features of history and context (most notably, the strong focus on equitable service delivery in the context of post-Apartheid South Africa). In addition to analysis of these questions based of a (2012) survey, the presentation will also address other insights and possibilities made possible through our use of participatory video to enrich the discussion. While emphasizing different themes, the arts-based qualitative aspects of the project highlight other important issues related to everyday lived dimensions of water access and quality, while also exploring insights related to citizen subjectivities, and possibilities for participatory water governance.


Leila Harris is an Associate Professor at IRES Institute on Resources Environment and Sustainability and Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice. Faculty Associate at UBC Department of Geography, Faculty Associate at Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, Co-Director of the Program on Water Governance, Member of EDGES Research Collaborative: Environment & Development: Gender, Equity, and Sustainability, The University of British Columbia.

Trained as a political and socio-cultural geographer (PhD Minnesota), her work examines social, cultural and political-economic dimensions of environmental and resource issues, especially in developing contexts.

Primary Research Areas

  • Water politics and governance
  • Nature-society
  • Developmental and environmental issues in the Global South
  • Gender, ethnicity, and social difference
  • Environmental politics/ citizenship/ subjectivity
  • Nationalism, political ecologies of the state, and gendered citizenship
  • Turkey and Middle East
  • South Africa and Ghana
  • Critical cartography, protected areas, and more-than-human worlds


Julian S Yates 33

[Photo Credit: Julian S. Yates]

Please note:  For the above video, the audio cuts off during the question & answer period at 41 minutes, 39 seconds.

We sincerely apologize for the technical error.