“¡Se Bota El Tanque!”: Housing, Infrastructure, and the Sounds of Water in Havana’s Domestic Spaces

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Andrisani, Vincent. (2019). “¡Se Bota El Tanque!”: housing, infrastructure, and the sounds of water in Havana’s domestic spaces. Tapuya: Latin American Science, Technology and Society. 1-16. DOI: 10.1080/25729861.2019.1639468.

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An enduring dimension of everyday life in Havana is the city’s architectural and infrastructural precarity. More than half the water supply is lost before it reaches residents, the asphalt on the streets is crumbling, and a building collapses approximately every third day. Such conditions have prompted scholars to conceive of the city as “dystopian” [Coyula, M. 2011. “The Bitter Trinquennium and the Dystopian City: Autopsy of a Utopia.” In Havana Beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings After 1989, edited by A. Birkenmaier, and E. K. Whitfield, 31–52. Durham, NC: Duke University Press], a “non-city” [Redruello, L. 2011. “Touring Havana in the Work of Ronaldo Menéndez.” In Havana Beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings After 1989, edited by A. Birkenmaier and E. K. Whitfield, 229–245. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.] or a city of “fleeting dreams” [Porter, A. L. 2008. “Fleeting Dreams and Flowing Goods: Citizenship and Consumption in Havana Cuba.” PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review 31 (1): 134–149], whereby the disrepair of the physical environment is symbolic of the decaying political agency of the local population [Ponte, A. J. 2011. “La Habana: City and Archive.” In Havana Beyond the Ruins: Cultural Mappings After 1989, edited by A. Birkenmaier, and E. K. Whitfield, 249–269]. Yet, residents continue to inhabit the city through practices that are at once creative, spontaneous, and collective. Building on existing discussions of Latin American informality [Fischer, B. 2014. “Introduction.” In Cities From Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America, edited by B. Fischer, B. McCann, and J. Auyero, 1–8. Durham, N.C, London: Duke University Press], I argue that an overlooked dimension of Havana’s everyday life emerges through tacit, communicatory practices made possible through sound and listening. Through both ethnographic writing and audio media production, this multimedia project illustrates a neighborhood response to malfunctioning water delivery infrastructure. This localized episode offers a vivid example of what ethnomusicologist Ana María Ochoa-Gautier refers to as the “aural public sphere” [2012. “Social Transculturation, Epistemologies of Purification and the Aural Public Sphere in Latin America.” In The Sound Studies Reader, edited by J. Sterne, 388–404. London: Routledge.] while giving life to a story of resilience that can resonate in cities across Latin America.

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