Env05


Volatile waters, improvised worlds: hydrosocial transformations and the making of orderly flows [P+R] 
Convenors:
Franz Krause (University of Cologne)
Lukas Ley (Heidelberg University)
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Stream:
Environment
Format:
Roundtables
Location:
Aula 20
Sessions:
Tuesday 16 April, 9:00-10:45, 11:15-13:00, 16:30-18:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel and roundtable discuss research that scrutinizes the relationships between various forms of water volatilities and specific sociocultural transformations.

Long Abstract

We live in a world where change has become the status quo, where uncertainty is the only certainty about the future, and where transformations cannot be expected to proceed linearly. Embedded in social, cultural and economic changes, the climate and the environment are changing, too, uprooting even the supposed solidity of physical existence. One of the key elements in climate change is water, in the forms of thawing ice, increased floods, prolonged droughts, rising seas, or salinized soils. If our world is volatile, then water - and its imbrication in social and cultural life - is an epitome of this volatility.

This panel brings together research that scrutinizes the relationships between various forms of water volatilities and human lives. We seek ethnographic accounts that explore how uncertain water fluctuations correspond or conflict with other sociocultural transformations. Furthermore, we are interested in learning about the cosmological, ritual, legal, infrastructural, habitual and other means by which people turn such volatile social-cum-hydrological dynamics into orderly flows, if only temporally. Finally, we hope to discuss examples that showcase the creative tensions between, on the one hand, grand schemes, plans and mechanisms, and on the other hand, improvisation and ad-hoc solutions, in the way different people track, make sense of, and seek to contain such hydrosocial changes.

The following roundtable will focus on emerging topics and common questions from the panel, relating them back to the core issues of hydrosocial volatility and ordering.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Nora Horisberger (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

I explore how movements of humans and non-humans - fishermen, shrimps and tidal flows - rhythm everyday life of a village in the Brazilian Parnaíba Delta and how uncertainty (e.g. of shrimp fishing) is not necessarily stable but may change depending on the context and become a 'certain uncertainty'.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation is about the fluid, moving and volatile aspects of everyday delta life. The Parnaíba Delta in the Northeast of Brazil is a place of entanglements where not only water and land, but also human and non-human lives intermingle in continual and volatile transformations. Based on the example of shrimp fishing, I explore how humans and non-humans co-habit and co-create worlds through engagements and relationships, where non-humans are active participants and not passive objects of human intervention and manipulation. I am interested in how fishermen continually attune their own movement to tidal flows and shrimp's movement and how these movements rhythm everyday life and sociality of the village. This attunement his not always harmonious; frictions with other rhythms emerge. A successful catch, thus, not only depends on the fishermen's skills to align with uncertain water flows and shrimp's movement, but also his skills to harmonize conflicting rhythms and to resist temptations. Furthermore, I explore how fishermen redefine the uncertainty of shrimp fishing in the context of increasing violence and economic volatility of adjacent places (e.g. towns of the mainland) and the island becomes a sort of refuge.

Author:

Sandro Simon (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper inquires different temporalities in the Sine-Saloum Delta and how frictions and resonances between them effect, manifest themselves in and get mediated by the practice of mollusc gleaning.

Paper long abstract:

Life across the islands of the hypersaline Sine-Saloum Delta, Senegal, unfolds along an array of interlocked temporalities such as seasons, rising sea level, tides, mbissa's, days and nights, prayer times, feasts or election periods. Each temporality is both rhythmic and arrhythmic, (re)configured by humans or non-humans and again reverberating into the other temporalities.

Mollusc gleaning is a millennia-old, predominantly female practice where one moves with/in moving water. It takes place in the dry season during mbissa, the week long period when the tides' low points occur during the day. Mbissa sets the pace and (in)forms not only the days of the gleaners but also their relationships with buyers, creditors, authorities, spirits and relatives. Commonly, it is only interrupted by mourning periods in the case of a death, but more recently, as molluscs get smaller and fewer due to the increased exploitation (relating to rising prices) and the advancing sea that hardens and shifts sandbanks and impairs mangrove growth, it also gets suspended during the three months rainy season. This suspension builds on the harmonisation of rules and dates across the many islands, but is challenged by the historically grounded centralisation of state power and the sociocultural diversity of the delta dwellers as well as the increasingly irregular rains that shift, cut short or prolong the rainy season. Gleaning is thus a knot in the meshwork of different temporalities and human-human as well as human-non-human relations.

Author:

Sarah Laborde (Griffith University)

Paper short abstract:

We will show a film in which Gooniyandi artist M. Street describes the rhythms and social connections mediated by the flows of the Fitzroy River, in Western Australia. We will discuss the film in the context of regional development proposals, and link it with current theory on hydrosocial rhythms.

Paper long abstract:

The Fitzroy River is a long, monsoonal river that still flows freely through 10 Aboriginal nations in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia. This presentation will start by showing a 5 minutes film called "Veins of the Country", created jointly by Sarah Laborde and Gooniyandi artist and Traditional Owner Mervyn Street. In the film, Mervyn Street uses his art and storytelling ability to explain the rhythms of water and life in the Fitzroy River catchment, and the social connections mediated by river flows. We will link the film with current work on hydrosocial rhythms, and discuss it in the context of the different stories currently being put forward for the future of the Fitzroy River and its catchment.

Author:

Daniel Lema Vidal (University of Zaragoza)

Paper short abstract:

My communication deals with the everyday rhythms of water in the Spanish desert of Monegros through the practice of observational cinema techniques. The aim is to examine volatile water from a rhythmical and bodily perspective to gain access to the affective relationship of Monegros people to water.

Paper long abstract:

The uniqueness of the irrigated desert of Monegros in the North-West of Spain, does not only stem from the fact that is one of the largest irrigation grounds in Western Europe, but from its landscape having been dwelled for centuries before the 'man-made' advent of water. In appealing to quench the thirst of a cursed land, the Spanish State began to build hundreds of kilometres of canals and ditches in 1915, to bring water from surrounding rivers. Nowadays, water infrastructure plough not only Monegros landscape, but its socialspace. Thus, water scarcity, comparing to its actual relative abundance, has deep roots in Monegros lifeworlds. The volatility of water in Monegros does not only appear in the five rain-fed towns, but also from the legal, social and political tangle the other county's irrigated fifty ones have to face in their everyday struggle to compete for institutionalized water. With that in mind, examining the everyday rhythms of water from a sensorial, rhythmical and bodily perspective gives access to the profoundly affective relationship of Monegros people to water. And that is the aim of my intervention: to look at subjective temporalities, sensational and embodied experience of Monegros water expectants in their everyday relationship to water. In doing it so, I am arguing that text is not enough to express unsaid and indeed ineffable volatile experiences of water, but to complement it through the practice of a medium well suited to attend embodied consciousness, intentionality, and time. That is, the practice of observational cinema.

Author:

Karine Gagné (University of Guelph)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how adaptation to climate change is taking place through "rogue engineering" and participatory technoscience in Zanskar in the Indian Himalayas

Paper long abstract:

Zanskar, a politically marginalized region of the Indian Himalayas characterized by challenging topographies and a dominant agrarian economy, is facing ever-increasing problems of water shortage due to reduced snowfall and the recession of glaciers. At the intersection of climate change and state abandonment, "rogue engineers" are acting in the margin of the state and sometimes through informal expertise to help the local population adapting to climate change. Whether entrepreneurial individuals or people working for national and foreign NGOs, rogue engineers are building water infrastructures that are invested with aspirations for a better future where adaptation to climate change meets increased agricultural productivity. But these infrastructures are also sources of deception when they fail to meet their promises or when they fall in disrepair. This paper maps a number of initiatives in different villages of Zanskar and raises some questions about the social effects of a shift towards participatory technoscience as a means to adapt to climate change.

Author:

Ina Dietzsch (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

The paper understands water as a social-technical ensembles of heterogenous elements. Referring to the water "crisis" this summer it will focus on how people, animals and non-living material objects are differently ordered in relation to changing water levels.

Paper long abstract:

The trinational Upper Rhine region is by definition one that heavily relates to its waters: the Rhine as an infrastructure of transportation, a source of drinking water, a place to swim, a lifeworld of a variety of species and a landscape that is shaped by water that connects mountains and cities. The theoretical anthropological approach that thinks a region "through water" (see Strang and Krause in several publications) draws the attention to social-technical ensembles of heterogenous elements which are held together by or with water of different ontologies: water as a physical fluid, virtual water as subject of political or economic activities of regulation or competition, be it water on paper, digitized waters or others. Inspired by Astrid Overborbeck Andersen's "Mapping Urban Waters" (2016) my paper will focus on scarcity and/or abundance of water as self-evident or problematic in relation to topographic and topological mapping practices. Referring to the "crisis" of Rhine water this summer I will ask how people, animals and non-living material objects are differently ordered in relation to changing water levels.

Author:

David Blake (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

Inter- and intra-bureaucratic power dynamics have frequently been over-looked in understanding hydro-social transformation processes. This paper uses empirical evidence from a diversion scheme from the Mekong River into NE Thailand to extend understanding of the logics of national power relations.

Paper long abstract:

Beyond Indonesia, there have been few studies regarding the actors, effects and processes of bureaucratic patrimonialism in the context of complex hydro-social landscapes in Southeast Asia. This paper intends to rectify this perceived lacuna by considering the case of a hydraulic engineering mega-project proposed for Northeast Thailand (Isaan), a sub-region in the midst of a wider region undergoing constant and far-reaching socio-ecological flux and change. Isaan has been characterised by a persistent drive by successive regimes over sixty years to construct a hydro-utopian scheme that will rectify its perceived socio-economic and "natural" deficiencies and problems. This paper seeks to disentangle some of the complex webs of power relations among and between the main hydraulic bureaucracies and wider constituencies that push forward (or constrain) the dominant discourse, using the concept of bureaucratic patrimonialism in a critical manner. Drawing on previous studies conducted in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand itself, the paper extends understandings of the roles of the hydrocracies and other actors that interact with them, paying special attention to inter-bureaucratic competition that may constrain or disrupt the grander controlling designs and whims of ruling elites. It suggests that such the inherently unstable nature of the social-cum-hydrological dynamics being enacted locally, nationally and (increasingly) regionally lead to accidental and unpredictable material outcomes, increasing the vulnerability of the dependent populations of human and non-human actors.

Author:

Teresa Cremer (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

This paper tells the story of the emergence of a space and place that came into existence due to the narrative of water scarcity in Cape Town and reveals how accessing water can come to be seen as simultaneously political, economic, technical, hydrological or spiritual.

Paper long abstract:

‚Day Zero' and the possibility of the total collapse of Cape Town's water system, resulted in a volatile situation whereby, by some citizens, water was no longer perceived as a stable and inert substance that simply flowed through underground pipes.

Yet, while the crisis offered striking examples of the creative agency of water-saving citizens, it also brought home the race and class divides in this post-apartheid city.

The paper will show how the city's water crisis brought into visibility a complex web of human and non-human actors that included pipes, springs, dams, boreholes, police, politicians, goverment officials, water experts, activists, citizens and non-citizens.

The paper is concerned with the various forms of how Cape Town's urban population reacts and responds to the current water discourse of scarcity and shortage. What comes to the forefront is the way in which the city's municipality deals with the water situation that partly ran contrary to the immediate creative and improvised reactions of the urban inhabitants.

By reflecting on ethnographic accounts that have been collected at the Water Collection Site in Newlands, this paper will focus on diverse urban actors that (per)form this place in which competing understandings of water, property and rights were articulated. In a short time these actors were deeply involved in the dynamics, regularities and volatilities, conflicts and advantages of this site - all of them brought together by the new and transforming water conditions in the City of Cape Town and their need for basic resources.

Author:

William Wheeler (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

The Kökaral Dam, built in 2005 to restore part of the dying Aral Sea, today stands as an environmental success story. However, as this paper explores, uncertainties about water supply and about the wider political and economic contexts delayed its construction, and prompt debate about its future.

Paper long abstract:

The Aral Sea receded significantly over the second half of the twentieth century; however, in 2005 a dam was built to restore a small part of the sea, with largely positive results. Today, the dam stands as a major success story both for its World Bank funders and for the Kazakhstan government. However, there was nothing inevitable about its construction: the uncertainty of inflow from the Syr Darya, in conjunction with the volatile post-Soviet economy, made it a risky investment. Moreover, while the dam's effects have been positive, they have not been as expected; indeed, as there was much more rainfall following the dam's construction than in previous years, in some ways the dam exceeded its expectations. This paper, first, examines the messy, contingent processes through which the dam came into being. The paper then shows how this messiness and uncertainty have been elided since the dam's construction in projections of an orderly mastery of nature, exerted either transnationally by the World Bank, or nationally by the Kazakhstani government: water's volatility is subsumed in a narrative of post-Soviet progress. Finally, the paper examines the debate about the next phase of the project, where the dam may be raised higher, or a new dam constructed: considerations about uncertainty of water supply throughout Central Asia far in the future conflict with local preferences for restoring as much of the sea as possible. The paper shows how this debate moves away from water itself to encompass wider concerns about the Kazakhstani state.