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The Social Life of Water

The Social Life of Water

Edited by John Richard Wagner
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Social Life of Water
    Book Description:

    Everywhere in the world communities and nations organize themselves in relation to water. We divert water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers to our homes, workplaces, irrigation canals, and hydro-generating stations. We use it for bathing, swimming, recreation, and it functions as a symbol of purity in ritual performances. In order to facilitate and manage our relationship with water, we develop institutions, technologies, and cultural practices entirely devoted to its appropriation and distribution, and through these institutions we construct relations of class, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. Relying on first-hand ethnographic research, the contributors to this volume examine the social life of water in diverse settings and explore the impacts of commodification, urbanization, and technology on the availability and quality of water supplies. Each case study speaks to a local set of issues, but the overall perspective is global, with representation from all continents.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-967-1
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    John Richard Wagner

    It is hard to conceive of any substance more fundamental to life than water. Scientists tell us that the cells that constitute all life forms are, on average, 70 percent water by weight. Even more impressive is the fact that 99 percent of all human molecules are water molecules (Freitas 1999). Three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered by either saltwater or freshwater. Human beings can survive for several weeks without food, but only a few days without water. We should not be surprised, then, to discover that water also occupies a place of privilege in the human imagination. According...

  6. Part I. Commodification

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-17)

      As outlined in the introduction to this volume,The Social Life of Thingsprovides a useful starting point for theorizing about the agency of water within social systems (Appadurai 1986). Unlike Appadurai and his coauthors, however, we are not attempting here to generate new theory about commodification and exchange theory as universal categories of human behavior. Also unlike the Appadurai volume, most contributors to this volume see commodification as a fundamentally destructive process. Although some contributors toThe Social Life of Thingsdescribe negative examples of commodification—most notably slavery—their overall emphasis is on the types of commodities that...

    • Chapter 1 Contesting Equivalences: Controversies over Water and Mining in Peru and Chile
      (pp. 18-35)
      Fabiana Li

      The aggressive expansion of mineral extraction in Latin America, made possible by an influx of transnational investment beginning in the 1990s, has generated a number of conflicts throughout the region. Although motivated by a diversity of issues and demands, one of the common features of these conflicts is the centrality of water in disputes over rights (see Bebbington and Williams 2008). One of the most highly publicized conflicts in recent years involved the Pascua-Lama gold mine, straddling the border between Chile and Argentina. The Pascua-Lama mining project attracted international attention when the company in charge of its development proposed to...

    • Chapter 2 Dam Nation: Cubbie Station and the Waters of the Darling
      (pp. 36-60)
      Veronica Strang

      Australia’s Cubbie Station is the largest private irrigation scheme in the southern hemisphere. With ninety-six thousand hectares, stretching along twenty-eight kilometers of the Culgoa River floodplain in southern Queensland, it holds fifty-one water licenses and has a water storage capacity of 537 gigaliters. It grows mainly cotton, a crop that—though highly profitable—mines nutrients from the soil, depends heavily on pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer, and—above all—requires major quantities of water (figures 2.1, 2.2).

      Cubbie is located in the upper Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), Australia’s largest and most intensively farmed river catchment. Since it diverts a significant proportion of...

    • Chapter 3 Water and Ill-Being: Displaced People and Dam-Based Development in India
      (pp. 61-78)
      Lyla Mehta

      The history of large dams parallels the history of development. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the modernization paradigm reigned supreme, development tended to be project-focused and was considered a unilinear way to progress. The large dam, executed in a top-down way, epitomized the development and the project of modernity. In the 1950s, projects such as large dams generating water and power were supposed to help India to “catch up with the West” and promote modernity (Fernandes and Thukral 1989; Mehta 2009). It was unquestioned then that such megaprojects would require the displacement of large population numbers. Forced uprooting was...

  7. Part II. Water and Technology

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 79-81)

      The hydrological cycle today is best understood as a social and technological, as well as an ecological, system. Huge volumes of water flow through elaborate networks of underground pipes, delivering freshwater and removing wastewater from our homes and workplaces. Irrigation infrastructure, including pipes, canals, wells, pumps, and all the industrial products needed to sustain them, carries 70 percent of all the freshwater appropriated by human beings to agricultural uses (UNESCO 2006). Very few large rivers anywhere in the world flow uninterrupted from their headwaters to the sea; most of those that do, carry with them the waste products of industrial...

    • Chapter 4 Aesthetics of a Relationship: Women and Water
      (pp. 82-97)
      Nefissa Naguib

      “Women fetching water! Why do a study on women gossiping by the spring?” A scornful remark by a young Palestinian archaeologist seemed to sum up the initial responses when I first presented my topic more than a decade ago. Why women and water? Because water makes and unmakes human life and bonds, sensory experiences, and relationships with cosmological forces.

      I have argued elsewhere that anthropology that is attentive to human, primary, sensory experience has much to tell us about the evocative workings of water memory (Naguib 2009). My point of departure is my experience of unexpected responses to my questions...

    • Chapter 5 La Pila de San Juan: Historic Transformations of Water as a Public Symbol in Suchitoto, El Salvador
      (pp. 98-118)
      Hugo De Burgos

      Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology in Stuttgart have developed new technology aiming at solving the water crisis problem. With this new knowledge, they are able to extract water from air humidity. This novel way of obtaining water will also undoubtedly bring new social engagements, meanings, relations, and understanding of the vital liquid. A similar experience happened in Suchitoto, El Salvador, in 1840, when, for the first time in that community, a water tank was built on the banks of the San Juan River to harness and publicly store potable water. This pragmatic change of technology,...

    • Chapter 6 Not So Boring: Assembling and Reassembling Groundwater Tales and Technologies from Malerkotla, Punjab
      (pp. 119-137)
      Rita Brara

      In varied idioms—“milking the cow to the last drop” or transforming “water into poison”—farmers, policy makers, environmentalists and social scientists are ruing the environmental and economic consequences of groundwater-dependent agriculture in India. The unrelenting movement from lift pumps that drew on shallow and rechargeable waters to submersible pumps that tap deep aquifers to reckon with ever-descending water tables is readily discerned in a linear view (Moench 2003; Rodell, Velicogna, and Famiglietti 2009). TheNew York Timesvivifies the time-line of Punjab aquifers as having been created when dinosaurs still roamed the earth (Somini Sengupta, September 30, 2006, “India...

    • Chapter 7 Kenyan Landscape, Identity, and Access
      (pp. 138-154)
      Swathi Veeravalli

      When an opportunity arose for me to go to Kenya to assist in a World Bank–funded research collaboration between Oxford and Stanford Universities, I readily agreed. After numerous discussions with my supervisor at Oxford, it made sense to align my master’s thesis with this project, which was focused on the issue of whether the enhanced sustainability of water services and increases in the economic productivity of water use contributed to poverty reduction. With a background in identity research, I soon discovered that the link between water and identity was not often explored. I did not understand why this was...

  8. Part III. Urbanization

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 155-157)

      Issaka Kanton Osumanu begins this section by reminding us that 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban centers. Given that only 19 percent of the world’s population was living in urban areas in 1920, and only 29 percent in 1950 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs 1969: 67), this represents a recent and dramatic transformation of human living patterns. Osumanu acknowledges that urbanization throughout the world is associated with economic growth and improved living standards for many, but that it also has led to the proliferation of urban slums and new forms of entrenched poverty...

    • Chapter 8 Health Challenges of Urban Poverty and Water Supply in Northern Ghana
      (pp. 158-179)
      Issaka Kanton Osumanu

      At the turn of the twenty-first century, about 50 percent of the world’s population was estimated to be living in urban areas and by the year 2025, the number is expected to reach 55 percent (United Nations Population Division 2005). Much of this urbanization is occurring in developing countries where annual growth rates have recently averaged 2.3 percent, which is far in excess of the developed world’s rate of 0.4 percent. By the close of the century, more people will be packed into the urban areas of the developing world than are alive on the planet today. This, undoubtedly, has...

    • Chapter 9 The Risk of Water: Dengue Prevention and Control in Urban Cambodia
      (pp. 180-198)
      Sarah C. Smith

      Dengue is the most widespread mosquito-borne virus in the world, with approximately two billion people living in areas of transmission. Dengue is endemic in all provinces in Cambodia, though periodic epidemics do occur when a new serotype is introduced. In this chapter, I will discuss the findings of an ethnographic study of dengue in an urban Cambodian setting that I will call “Boeng,” to protect the location and identity of my interlocutors. Specifically, I will explore the human relationship with water in Boeng as it relates to dengue vector breeding and control. I begin with a review of the biomedical...

    • Chapter 10 The Water Crisis in Ireland: The Sociopolitical Contexts of Risk in Contemporary Society
      (pp. 199-216)
      Liam Leonard

      Ireland, with its unspoiled scenery, clean water, and fresh air, has traditionally been known as the Emerald Isle. Recent decades of rapid growth and unregulated development have jeopardized Ireland’s natural resources, however. The Celtic Tiger phase of accelerated growth that occurred in the Republic of Ireland reached its peak in 2007. Over the previous decade, there had been an increase in crises related to infrastructural development. While levels of personal wealth increased dramatically in the years leading up to 2007, the accompanying growth in consumption and waste also created a series of crisis and subsequent protests about sewage treatment plants,...

  9. Part IV. Governance

    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 217-219)

      The term “governance” is now often used to indicate the entire network of governmental and nongovernmental organizations involved in decision-making processes. Its meaning is thus distinct from “management,” which refers to the specific dayto-day actions of organizations, such as water utilities, that are formally mandated to implement management decisions. “Governance” is also distinguished from “government” since the former refers to the actions and interrelationships of a much broader set of institutions and interest groups than government agencies (de Loë et al. 2009). It can also be an ideological concept that signals, for some, a radical shift away from the conventional...

    • Chapter 11 Fairness and the Human Right to Water: A Preliminary Cross-Cultural Theory
      (pp. 220-238)
      Amber Wutich, Alexandra Brewis, Sveinn Sigurdsson, Rhian Stotts and Abigail York

      Over the past decade, a global consensus has emerged around the idea of water as a fundamental human right. The United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) General Comment 15 requires national governments to make progress toward providing “sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water” for all citizens (UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 2003: 1). The UN Human Rights Council Resolution 7/22 in 2008, UN Human Rights Council Resolution 12/8 in 2009, and UN General Assembly Resolution 64/292 in 2010 have all expanded basic human rights to water. This trend is not...

    • Chapter 12 Indigenous Water Governance and Resistance: A Syilx Perspective
      (pp. 239-254)
      Marlowe Sam and Jeannette Armstrong

      The social life of water related to water governance, for indigenous peoples, represents struggle against colonial exclusions under water law and injustices in water governance as one aspect of the much larger injustice of the forces of globalization and the overarching resistance the world over by indigenous peoples to political annihilation.¹

      Modern resistance to the privatization of water was brought to the world’s attention in January 2000 when indigenous peoples shut down the entire city of Cochabamba in Bolivia to protest the economic impositions created by Bechtel, a U.S. corporation that had assumed private control of water distribution in the...

    • Chapter 13 Bureaucratic Bricolage and Adaptive Comanagement in Indonesian Irrigation
      (pp. 255-277)
      Bryan Bruns

      In 1963, the Acehnese religious and political leader, Daud Beureueh, led the digging of a seventeen-kilometer-long irrigation canal in Pidie District, resolving a long-standing conflict created by a previous canal (Siegel 2000, 60–67). This was one of a variety of projects Daud Beureueh led to build mosques, roads, and bridges; Beureueh had earlier headed the All-Atjeh Union of Religious Scholars, been military governor of Aceh during the Indonesian revolution in 1945–46, and led a rebellion against the central government from 1953 until a settlement was agreed to in 1962. While farmers whose lands would benefit formed the core...

    • Chapter 14 Anthropological Insights into Stakeholder Participation in Water Management of the Edwards Aquifer in Texas
      (pp. 278-297)
      John M. Donahue

      There was an almost audible rush of relief in the room when after three years the stakeholders unanimously agreed to the last of the items that might finally lead to a resolution of the seventeen-year debate over management of the Edwards Aquifer and protection of its endangered species. For three years, some eighty stakeholders representing a wide range of institutions and citizenry had met monthly to forge a process that would resolve a long-standing conflict on how best to preserve the habitat of the species and avoid a federal takeover of water management of the aquifer. Ad hoc committees, work...

  10. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 298-302)
  11. Index
    (pp. 303-313)