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Troubled waters: ethnographic engagements with cleanliness and pollution 
Fenna Smits (University of Amsterdam)
Annelieke Driessen (University of Amsterdam)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Water quality is becoming an ever more pressing concern. Persistent pollutants like pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, and microplastics trouble aquatic environments. Yet, how are water troubles known? And when knowing water is troubled, how are these troubles handled – worked with, lived with?

Long Abstract:

This panel invites contributions exploring water troubles and practices of navigating them. These may include practices of preventing water pollution, improving treatment technologies, changing water usage, issuing warnings, or avoiding water altogether.

Within the realm of technology studies in STS, a primary concern has been to challenge technologists' linear modes of knowing and containing troubles. When it comes to troubled waters, linearity doesn’t hold; water flows, spills, transforms, relates. When people clean their bodies, clothes, or kitchen they dirty the water. While swimming in dirty water may offer exercise and pleasure, it contaminates the swimmers. While wastewater treatment seeks to clean water, the bacteria who do the cleaning add CO2 to the air.

Our panel explores how in living and working with water troubles different goods butt up against each other. We seek a conversation that contributes to thinking how troubled waters are variously known and valued in ways that go beyond linear control. How, when, where, for whom are water troubles pressing, felt, or hidden? How are they evaluated and which response-abilities are constituted in the process? How does this differ between sites and situations and what might we learn from these differences?

We welcome empirically grounded and conceptually creative contributions stemming from research into settings where issues with water cleanliness and pollution arise, be it households, industries, farms, hospitals, laboratories, marine environments, surface waters, wastewater treatment plants, or otherwise. What are the diverse goods at stake in your site(s) and how are they made to relate in practice? How are these differences navigated and negotiated in the practices of living with, and caring for, troubled waters – are they ignored, traded off, aligned, combined, or otherwise dealt with? And how, in practice, does the research you engage seeks to contribute to good care for water and its troubles?

Accepted papers: