Urban frictions: prosperity turns within Nairobi’s water tinkering practices

Grantham Scholar Monica Martin Grau’s project brings more nuanced perspectives to the transition realm through Phenomenology and New Materialism theories, establishing transdisciplinary connections between arts, humanities and social sciences in the study of water practices.

The project

After 40 years of climate action very few sustainable outcomes have been achieved. The array of roadmaps designed to foster sustainable transitions has depicted nature as an external mechanism that we can comprehend through science and manipulate to our will. However, an initial examination of these premises reveals some tensions between the ways we have conceptualised human influence in such transition frameworks, and the manifold ways processes of change actually happen in our natural environments.

My proposal focuses on unsolved philosophical questions revolving around the production of socio-natures and the ways human beings are steadily sharing information through the shaping of their physical surroundings. Doing so, it aims to develop an alternative reading of the transition literature for governing climate in a messy and changing world, outside formal political spaces and strategic planning. This is done through observing the manifold ways through which water is made available in Nairobi (Kenya). There, the multiple frictions between objects, people and geographies generate uncontrollable changes in human and non-human entities, reformulating the meaning we give to the world and, eventually, challenging universal definitions of prosperity through practices of care and emotional connection.


In 2022, Monica took part in the PhD video challenge of the Buildings & Cities journal. You can watch her short film Urban Frictions: Prosperity Turns Within Nairobi’s Tinkering Practices on Vimeo.

You can find out more about Monica by reading: Objetivo: comunidades y ciudades sostenibles.

In 2023, Monica was awarded Grantham Opportunities funding which enabled her to document a series of workshops which will inform her research in water governance in Nairobi, Kenya. You can read more about this here. With the material filmed during the fieldwork process, Monica participated on creating a video about water practices in the neighbourhood of Mathare which will be presented to local authorities and water stakeholders for discussion as part of her outreach training at the Grantham Institute.

Find Monica Martin Grau on social media

You can find Monica on Twitter.

And you can find her on LinkedIn.

Monica also has a website.


As first author:

Maroso, R. , Neder, Y., Martín, M., Gerretsen, S. (2019) Key considerations for integrated urban regeneration strategies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

As contributor:

Bosworth, B. (2019) Laying the foundations for transformative urban interventions in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome1. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Scruggs, G., Mohn, C., Aguinaga, A. (2019) Addressing systemic barriers for achieving sustainable urbanisation in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Normative Outcome 2. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.

Edilbi, B., Kalmakoff, J. (2019) Developing new public spaces in emerging economies. UK-FCO Global Future Cities Programme Working Papers. UN-Habitat, Nairobi.




Professor Liz Sharp

Department of Urban Studies and Planning