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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

McFarlane, C. & Silver, J. The Poolitical City: “Seeing Sanitation” and Making the Urban Political in Cape Town. Antipode. 2017;49:125-148.

Author(s) from Durham


In an urbanizing world, the inequalities of infrastructure are increasingly
politicized in ways that reconstitute the urban political. A key site here is the politicization
of human waste. The centrality of sanitation to urban life means that its politicization is
always more than just service delivery. It is vital to the production of the urban political
itself. The ways in which sanitation is seen by different actors is a basis for understanding
its relation to the political. We chart Cape Town’s contemporary sanitation syndrome, its
condition of crisis, and the remarkable politicization of toilets and human waste in the
city’s townships and informal settlements in recent years. We identify four tactics—
poolitical tactics—that politicize not just sanitation but Cape Town itself: poo protests,
auditing, sabotage, and blockages. We evaluate these tactics, consider what is at stake,
and chart possibilities for a more just urban future.

Department of Geography