Watershed Ethnography

Patrick Bresnihan (Maynooth University)
Jeremy Trombley (Cornell University)
Borders and Places

Short abstract:

In this panel, anthropologists and geographers will explore how ethnographic methods can contribute to watershed thinking in different contexts, as well as the ways in which the watershed concept intervenes in ethnography to incite a new methodology.

Long abstract:

A watershed is an area of land from which water drains to a common outlet—generally where a river flows into another river, a lake, or an ocean. Conventionally understood as a topographically defined catchment area, separated from its neighbours by ridges, the watershed as a physical-geographical unit is linked to human geographies of place-making, territory, exchange, and political ecology. However, the use of the watershed as a way of conceptualizing space and a scale for understanding and managing socio-environmental processes is relatively recent, dating to the nineteenth century. This panel brings together anthropologists and geographers to explore how ethnographic methods might contribute to watershed thinking and, in turn, how watershed thinking might inform innovative forms of ethnographic theory and practice. While 19th century anthropology played a role in the articulation of the watershed concept (Schmidt 2017), ethnographic research developed through attention to smaller scales of human organization, like islands, villages, and neighborhoods and later, an abiding concern with understanding communities in relationship to global political-economic structures, networks, flows, and infrastructures. Inspired by a new generation of environmental anthropology, geography, and science and technology studies, panelists are concerned with the emerging hydro-social connections, forms of expertise, governance, collective action, and space- and place-making practices that watershed ethnography might reveal.