Dean Chahim

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Stanford U.

Grant number

Gr. 9452

Approve Date

April 25, 2017

Project Title

Chahim, Dean M., Stanford U., Stanford, CA - To aid research on 'Engineering the Infinite Metropolis: Water, Technology, and the Limits to Growth in Mexico City,' supervised by Dr. James Ferguson

DEAN M. CHAHIM, then a graduate student at Stanford University, Stanford, California, received a grant in April 2017 to aid research on ‘Engineering the Infinite Metropolis: Water, Technology, and the Limits to Growth in Mexico City,’ supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. Mexico City has long been physically sinking under the weight of its own growth — and flooding as a result. Yet city leaders and developers continue to push for more urbanization into vulnerable floodplains. This project investigates this paradox, asking how continued urbanization is made imaginable and materially possible in the face of ostensible disaster. Funding supported nine months of ethnographic and archival research into the city’s massive drainage system. This fieldwork involved participant observation and interviews with the city water utility’s hydraulic engineers and operations and maintenance workers, as well as with residents in nearly a dozen flood-prone communities spread across the urban periphery. It also involved research into largely unexplored internal government archives. This investigation revealed how engineering transforms, rather than mitigates, the problem of flooding. Through work on and through the material landscape as well as their practices of calculation, measurement, and documentation, it argues that engineers render floods both a tangible object of control and a slow, spatially diffuse, and routinized problem for the marginalized. In so doing, engineers make continued urbanization both materially possible and imaginable even in a time of rapid environmental decay and increasing austerity.