Water Entrepreneurs, Infrastructural Citizenship, and State Power in Nigeria


  • Daniel Jordan Smith




In today’s world, entrepreneurialism is frequently promoted for its potential to address major global social problems. Entrepreneurs are often celebrated for their ability to achieve what governments and development programs commonly fail to do: deliver sustainable economic and social benefits to poor people in the Global South. Typically, entrepreneurship is seen as bypassing the state. This essay offers a different perspective, showing how, in Nigeria, entrepreneurial enterprises geared to provide access to potable water because the government fails to do so paradoxically serve the interests of those who control the state. Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in southeastern Nigeria, and using examples of private borehole vendors and “pure water” sachet manufacturers, I argue that ordinary people’s infrastructural entrepreneurialism not only requires regular engagement with government officials. It also contributes significantly to the experience of citizenship and the exercise and consolidation of state power.

Author Biography

Daniel Jordan Smith

is Charles C. Tillinghast, Jr. ’32 Professor of International Studies, Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the Africa Initiative at Brown University. He is the author of four books about Nigeria, including A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria (2007, Princeton University Press), AIDS Doesn’t Show Its Face: Inequality, Morality, and Social Change in Nigeria (2014, University of Chicago Press), To Be a Man Is Not a One-Day Job: Masculinity, Money, and Intimacy in Nigeria (2017, University of Chicago Press), and, most recently, Every Household Its Own Government: Improvised Infrastructure, Entrepreneurial Citizens, and the State in Nigeria (2022, Princeton University Press).

Daniel Jordan Smith can be reached at daniel_j_smith@brown.edu


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