Accepted Papers:

Working the watershed: the impossible endeavour to contain unruly flows and concepts  


Astrid Stensrud (University of Agder)

Paper Short Abstract:

Inspired by Kirsten Hastrup's work on natural-social entanglements and 'scales of attention', the paper explores how watersheds are constituted by traveling concepts and plural practices, which also produce diverse versions of water and different yet entangled waterworlds in local/global encounters.

Paper long abstract:

Inspired by Kirsten Hastrup's work on climate change and water, and particularly her insights into scaling and natural-social entanglements, I will discuss how water and watersheds are made by a plurality of global and local concepts and practices. As Kirsten Hastrup has argued, the local and the global are always enfolded in each other, and this insight requires anthropologists to acknowledge different points of perception and possible scales of attention in ethnographic research. This paper will challenge conventional understandings of 'water' and 'watersheds' by showing that watersheds are not stable and entirely 'natural' entities. It takes a lot of work to make water flow, and watersheds are constituted by a plurality of water practices, which also produce diverse versions of water and different yet entangled water worlds. The concept of 'watershed' travels globally and is implemented locally by endeavours to gather diverse practices and transform water into a standardized resource by measurements and regulations. However, as water refuses to be contained within a singular definition, it constantly multiplies. I argue that there is a need to take this excess and multiplicity seriously in order to achieve a fuller understanding of water and watersheds. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the Colca-Majes watershed in southern Peru, I examine the entanglements of human and environmental agencies and show that water is not a neutral and universal substance, and not only a contested 'resource', but also an unruly liquid, a vital force and a living being.

Panel P054
Anthropology as a tool for discovery: celebrating Kirsten Hastrup's research and professional contributions on the occasion of her retirement