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Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space


Urban Politics, Accounting, Austerity, Water


With the rise of austerity urbanism, contemporary urban governance has been described as “rule by accountancy.” Yet the intricacies of accounting practice have been underexplored in the austerity urbanism literature. Drawing on insights from critical accounting studies, I interrogate accounting practices as political exercises that draw people and institutions into ties of obligation (accountability), shape social relations, and structure the conditions of urban life. Through this lens, practices of accounting can be understood not just as a technocratic tool of the financialized state, but as a contested terrain of urban political struggle. Examining the case of austerity-driven water service disconnections in Detroit, this paper chronicles how accounting practices are both deployed by the state to justify water disconnection and used by activists seeking to expand water access in unprecedented ways. I find that while the austerity urbanism literature is correct to identify accounting as a tool in the advancement of the austerity agenda, accounting is also a means to organize against the diminished expectations of life under austerity.




This is an accepted manuscript of an article published in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 41, no.3 (2022).

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