Accepted paper:

Against chlorine, outside the state: fresh water as the substance of autonomy


Sally Babidge (University of Queensland)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the relationships, spaces, and times associated with an Indigenous Community's fresh water source, exploring the instabilities of water governance and relations to the state.

Paper long abstract:

The Chilean government health agency has repeatedly informed Peine Indigenous Community's Potable Water Committee that their water will only be 'potable' if they add chlorine. If they don't, the government will appoint a professional to manage it. People from Peine speak disdainfully of the Chilean state. 'The authorities', they say, are remote, disinterested and unhelpful, instead; the community is 'like our own state'. As autonomous agents, they call on mining companies operating in indigenous territory to fund infrastructure, health, welfare and education projects that they design and work on. For example, thirty years ago, after striving for a source of fresh water for decades, they found Chaquesoke, a spring located 43 kilometres away, in the foothills of a tutelary mountain named Miñisques. They then spent two years, in communal labour gangs, digging the rocky ground and laying pipes. Peine's project to bring fresh water to town in the mid-1990s relied on some government funding through the newly-created Indigenous Development Corporation established under the Indigenous Law (1993) and funds resulting from the mining industry's growing interest in demonstrating their 'social responsibility', but was completed with local labour. This paper explores the relationships, spaces, and times associated with the flows of Peine's fresh water to show how changes to local, national, and global governance of water are interlinked in unstable ways. It traces the community's historical struggle for fresh water and their recent opposition to its chlorination as an exploration of community governance which is focussed on autonomy and sustained by water.

panel P14
Hydroscapes and hydrosocial states: culture and the political ecology of water governance