Accepted Paper:

Making Water Quality on the Mystic Watershed: a Multi-Species Ethnography of Advocacy Science  


Caterina Scaramelli (Amherst College)

Paper short abstract:

Water is constitutive (dis)connections of spaces, of human and non-human entities, and of values and quantification. This paper analysis three forms of water quality as they emerge in advocacy science efforts in Boston.

Paper long abstract:

In the Boston area groups such as the Mystic River Watershed Association have been reclaiming urban water bodies through community-based advocacy science that strives to operate at the watershed scale. The interactions and translations conjured up in grassroots monitoring of water quality in the Mystic Watershed suggest that water quality as a category and a subject is itself constituted of particular artifacts, life-forms, engagements, and knowledge-making. I identify three different forms of water quality: the first pertains to a bacteriological understanding of pollution, and it is formed by the engagement with bacterial entities, engaged with both scientifically and sensuously in an interplay of (in)visibility and (un)perceptibility. The second understanding of water quality mobilizes charismatic and undesired forms of life. Fish is a charismatic species in the watershed, yet it is engaged with in different ways to materialize data or to create spaces of sentiment beyond data. During an ongoing debate over a native plant gone invasive, taxonomy is underplayed, and the actions of the plant itself are central to its evaluation as an actor in the urban ecosystem. The third materialization of water quality is the database, where data is collected, traded, circulated: it is the form that water quality assumes when it has to be translated to different groups and institutions and activated to produce change. Scientists, monitors and volunteers move between these three forms fluidly, as they explore ways to transform diverse experiences of water into tradable data, and action.

Panel P11
Living water: the powers and politics of a vital substance