P021


Dwelling on water: mobilities, immobilities and metaphors 
Convenors:
Ben Bowles (SOAS)
Nataša Rogelja Caf (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)
Maarja Kaaristo (Manchester Metropolitan University)
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Discussant:
Franz Krause (University of Cologne)
Format:
Panels
Location:
SO-E387
Sessions:
Wednesday 15 August, 9:00-10:45, 11:15-13:00 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This panel explores the (im)mobilities of water dwelling lifestyles and their relationship with (state) power. How are water mobilities practiced, governed and represented in various waterscapes? What are the challenges, advantages and metaphorical possibilities of dwelling on water?

Long Abstract

Water is 'simultaneously an element, a flow, a means of transport, a life-sustaining substance, a life-threatening force, the subject, the object, and often the very means of social and cultural activity' (Krause and Strang, 2016: 633). It can cement state power (Wittfogel, 1958) or resist it, due to its boundary-confounding qualities, smooth in a Deleuzeo-Guattarian (1988) sense. It is the laminar quality of water that makes various mobilities possible - but it also creates frictions, complicating the boundaries between moving and staying. Beyond a literal dialectical complicating of mobility and immobility (further complicated by the various moorings, ports and other architectures that tie boats to the land), waterscapes are also a font of metaphors; a rich creative resource.

Since there are different ways of dwelling (Ingold, 2000) on and with water, we are interested in what ways this presents a challenge to overwhelmingly sedentary states and their terra-centric logics. Itinerant boat-dwellers on the waterways of Britain (Bowles, 2016) or in the Mediterranean (Rogelja, 2015) and international seafarers (Sampson, 2014) all demonstrate particular new relationships with state power. Considering waterscapes as spaces of dwelling compels us to discuss them in a phenomenological and politico-theoretical fashion. Can dwelling on water open up (an)other place in space?

We invite proposals that discuss any of the above themes, and that focus on ethnography or other research conducted with groups dwelling on water for various amounts of time, be that inland waterways (rivers, canals, lakes), seas or oceans.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Ben Bowles (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

London's liveaboard boat-dwellers live lives that tend towards the rhizomatic. The geography of the canals supports this way of being, and it is reflected in Boaters' political organisation, which is directly democratic and has a tendency to resist holding a single consistent shape.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is an attempt to answer two questions. Firstly, why did Deleuze see canals as prime exemplars of his rhizome model, fundamentally opposed to the tree/state form? Following from this, is this attention to canals a simple metaphor concerning their shape, or is it useful to think about the lives of those dwelling on canals using ideas from "A Thousand Plateaus"?

The second question asks why London's liveaboard boat-dwellers (Boaters) resist formal political organisation and representational democratic forms? Is the political (dis)organisation of the Boaters due to, as it may appear from the outside, a lack of consistency of aims and objectives within the community, or is the shape of the Boaters' political formation a deliberate, resistant, and rhizomatic, anti-organisation?

Using the example of the advocacy group "London Boaters", it is argued that boat-dwellers in London will not allow their diverse perspectives and intentions to be reduced and simplified to a single hegemonic political position. This is as the canals are smooth, non-hierarchical spaces, where the autonomy of Boaters, able as they are to move away from domination or attempts to make them simplified and legible from a state perspective, is held as paramount.

Therefore Boater political organisation, when it comes, springs forth in rhizomatic form, with advocacy groups coming into being, acting against particular (state) threats, and disappearing through internal tensions before they can become co-opted into a state form.

Author:

Nataša Rogelja Caf (Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts)

Paper short abstract:

The sea as a place signifies something loosely defined as quality of life, has also a quality of a "gap". Experiments of inhabiting the gap, of temporarily unbelonging, will be observed ethnographically, reflecting on liveaboardsꞌ expectations, aspirations and experiences.

Paper long abstract:

Following the experiences of my interlocutors, paper seek to understand attempts of liveaboards as a temporarily unbelonging experiments (Cocker 2014) ̶ an active disassociation in the attempt to clear the ground for something else to emerge. The geographic place of the sea and the liminal imaginaries of the sea can be used as a jumpstart that enables individuals to reflect or even rearrange work and family life, it can be inhabited in a more permanent sense in order to achieve an active retirement, or it can be used as a polygon to experience new relations with societal structures.

Models of liminality and the liminoid (Turner 1974) are only partly useful, as liveaboards enter this "liminal position" voluntarily and once "there" they are actively creating their future options by adopting a critical view that develops into criticality (Rogoff 2006) - a way of inhabiting the problem rather than analysing it. It is exactly this shift towards new knowledge and new skills (acquired in the state of temporarily unbelonging) that can be effectively observed through a longitudinal qualitative approach. The desire of my interlocutors to change things by temporarily unbelonging does not signal a passive or romantic longing for wilderness or freedom but it rather creates a productive gap that enables them to learn new modes of action and thought. By reflecting on bits and pieces from life histories the paper tries to answer the question why and how is the sea suited for these endeavours?

Author:

Montse Pijoan (University of Barcelona University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

Based on an ethnography in Sail Training experiences for youngsters, my aim is to develop the idea of the ship as a dwelling place that becomes a living organism in interaction with the ocean. Being immersed within this environment supposes a liminality experience for the youngsters on board.

Paper long abstract:

The fieldwork on board Tall Ships, conducting in-depth interviews and gathering data from questionnaires among different crews crossing the Atlantic resulted in a meshwork of mutuality as the main substrate of the experience.

The paper explores the ship as a dwelling place, built as a dynamic process of bodily co-presence of youngsters who happen to be in that place at that time, performing activities together. In doing so, their Sail Training ship becomes an entity of shared intentionality, a living organism with its own personality (Ingold, 2000). It describes the process of formation of the metaphor of the ship as a living place.

In this paper, I present the theoretical foundations of a home place, with a spirit of place, based on noticeable dialects, gestural styles and whole ways of thinking (Casey, 1993), giving rise to a 'commonplace' or shared moments in a flow of social activity which afford common reference (Shotter, 1986).

It gives evidence of this process comparing diagrams of kinship and diagrams of the relationships on board, through trainees' drawings that keep a similar structure in both diagrams, just substituting family names with names of the crew.

Finally, the analysis of the ship as a dwelling place bears the porosity character of the place out, allowing the development of experiences of liminality among youngsters across spatiotemporal zones (Munn, 1977).

Author:

Hannah Wadle (Adam Mickiewicz University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflects on contemporary dilemmas of shifting values, commercialization, and changing cultural traditions in the Polish sailing landscape. The reflections are presented as ethno-graphic dialogue between anthropologist Hannah Wadle and Masurian sailor-cum-artist Jerzy Tyszko.

Paper long abstract:

Sailing culture and sailors are an integral part of the Great Masurian Lakes, a post-glacial landscape in the Northeast of Poland. Connected by canals created under East Prussian rule, the lakes form an intricate water network, a paradise for sailing and other water sports.

Sailing was introduced in the area in the beginning of the 20th century, and - apart from during and immediately after the two World Wars - never ceased in popularity. If the activity transcended the change of the national states and political regimes, the infrastructures and ideologies, under which it was practiced, transformed accordingly. In socialist Poland, sailing was popularized as a sport for the masses.

The Masurian Lake District became a national destination, among others, because the landlocked waterscape gave no eventuality of physical escape for citizens. After the break down of socialism, sailing tourism was privatized and commercialized.

This paper reflects on contemporary dilemmas of shifting values, commercialization, and changing cultural traditions in the Masurian sailing landscape. The reflections are presented as intergenerational ethno-graphic dialogue between anthropologist Hannah Wadle, who conducted fieldwork in the area, and Masurian sailor-cum-artist Jerzy Tyszko, who created 16 drawings that accompany and comment Wadle's observations from a local perspective.

Author:

Laura Roberts (Queen Mary University of London)

Paper short abstract:

The practice and governance of boat-dwellers in London allow them to become 'out-of-the-way people' (Scott, J. 2009, viv). To what extent is access to (im)mobilities of water as a refuge mediated by discourses and practices of middle-class whiteness (Frankenberg 1993; Wemyss, 2009)?

Paper long abstract:

The UK housing crisis has priced many people out of buying, particularly in London (Propertywire, 2018). An alternative way to own a home is to buy a boat and live on the waterways. Boats average £50,000- considerably less than the average £481,556 for a London property (gov.uk, 2017). The Canal and River Trust (CRT) manage much of the UK's waterways and offer a low cost 'Continuous Cruiser' (CC'er) licence requiring a boat to move to a new 'place' every 14 days (legislation.gov.uk, 1995; section 17(3)(c)(ii)). This itinerancy affords CCer's a 'watery region of refuge' making them 'out-of-the-way people', ungraspable to the state (Scott, J. 2009, viv).

82% of London boaters who participated in a CRT survey were attracted to boat-life by the waterway environment (tranquility, boats, wildlife etc.) (CRT, 2016b). This survey also details that 77% of London CC'ers are 'White English or British' (CRT, 2016a). To what extent do CC'ers' 'white middle-class social and moral values' (Tyler, 2003: 492) reproduce ideas of the freedoms of the countryside as a 'white landscape' (Agyeman and Spooner, 1997). Informed by Tyler's (2003) and Byrne's (2007) studies of the articulation of middle-classness with whiteness, I look at the freedoms the mobilities of water affords but also who can make claims to this space. I draw on Benson and Jackson's (2012) study of middle-class processes of place-making and place maintenance to explore the intersection of 'moral ownership' on the waterways in London.

Author:

David Whyte (University College Cork)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes a coastal development dispute in Clare, Ireland, in order to examine the manner in which particular narratives of environmentalist resistance emerge ecologically through surfers' practical engagements with the sea.

Paper long abstract:

If water can be said to be the very means of social and cultural activity, this can also be said of the political. As surfers engage with the dynamism of waves, so they develop conceptions of environmental potency that then become foundational to emic environmentalist narratives. This paper presents ethnography of a group of surfers in Clare, Ireland, who are currently challenging the plans of the local Trump International Golf Links and Hotel to erect a boulder wall along a pristine beach in order to protect the golf course from erosion. Besides the threat which the development poses to surfable waves at the beach, the surfers argue that the agency of coastal protection resides in 'natural' processes, and not in any human interventions. This ethnographic encounter will be used to examine the specific form that this grassroots action has taken against the imposition of corporate power and that of a complicit state. It will do so by discussing how the concepts through which surfers' environmentalist resistance is expressed are derived ecologically from the terms upon which surfers encounter the potency of the near shore environment through practice.

Author:

Nurzat Sultanalieva (Asia-Orient Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Social and spatial dynamics that have been taking place at the Yssyk-Kul lake in Kyrgyzstan since 1991, and the massive land territories that were once collective farms, operated by the central apparatus have been rapidly privatized in favour of tourism and entrepreneurship.

Paper long abstract:

Often disregarded as being a constant object in Kyrgyz mountainous landscape, the Yssyk-Köl lake in Kyrgyzstan has changed its tangible and intangible value in the eyes of the people living near it numerous times: from that of an awed and practically unused waterscape in everyday economy, to that of a fishing industry and tourist attraction. 1950's were a time, when the lake took its course on becoming a tourist attraction for health sanatorias and resorts with the Soviet policy of developing domestic tourism and leisure. It was also a time, when the healing properties of the water, as believed by the local populations, were put into medicalized terms to refer to the water qualities of the lake, which naturally brought a slow diversion of the 'inherent' and 'essential' healing properties of the sacred lake.

The paper looks at the social and spatial dynamics that have been taking place at the Yssyk-Kul lake and its coastal area since 1991, when Kyrgyzstan acquired its independence, and tourism has been given a state-level importance for the economic growth of the country. The massive land territories that were once collective farms, operated by the central apparatus and state-owned guest houses have been rapidly privatized in favour of developing tourism and private entrepreneurship. The region around the lake, though representing a single administrative union is very diverse, which is reflected in the ways people have been adapting their livelihoods to developing tourism, economic and social transitions that the country has been going through.

Author:

Kirsty Wissing (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will dwell on water as death, not life, and unpack Akwamu interpretations of drowning in Ghana. By exploring rituals thought to move the victim and broader society from watery ambiguity to certainty on/in land, I will ask how death in water threatens and/or consolidates state(s) of power.

Paper long abstract:

What happens when water as the source of life inverts to become the cause of death? Can social stability and hierarchy as related through the prism of water as life be achieved, maintained, or threatened in the context of death by drowning?

In southern Ghana, where traditional Akwamu beliefs hold that a deity embeds each fresh water river, human drowning and other water-related mishaps can mean more than mere misfortune. Such incidents are interpreted as non-human spiritual valuations of human attitudes, behaviours and personhoods and highlight a hierarchy in Akwamu human-environment relationships. They may also, however, reflect undercurrents of power in human-human relationships.

Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic research, I will unpack Akwamu interpretations of drowning in the Volta River, Ghana. After considering notions of 'natural' compared to 'unnatural' death, I will explore how traditional ritual practices are thought to move the drowning victim from watery ambiguity to certainty and finality on/in land. In doing so, these rituals are also thought to symbolically shift broader society from a state of uncertainty associated with unnatural death (back) to an understood, everyday social life. In this paper, I will dwell on the question of how death in water can threaten and/or consolidate traditional Akwamu state(s) of power.

Author:

Win-Ping Kuo (Chinese Culture University )

Paper short abstract:

This paper studies water consumption practice of Taiwan during the 2014-2015 drought. Data from an ethnographic observations and interviews and media corpus were collected for analysis. results showed the negotiation and conflicts between official grand narrative and domestic water usage culture.

Paper long abstract:

From the late 2014 to mid-2015, Taiwan, where annual rainfalls are 2.6 times of the globally averaged precipitation, experienced a serious drought in 67 years due to climate change. Based on the context, this paper investigates Taiwanese people's water consumption practice in the dynamic times. The 2014-15 drought provided an opportunity for the researcher to examine various aspects of water consumption - between the boundary of normal and abnormal, human and non-human integrated activities and their negotiations on the grand narrative of water management and domestic water culture. Empirical data were collected via ethnographic methods comprised with observations and in-depth interviews of 19 participants, as well as a corpus analysis of 1207 media reports on drought. The study addresses on the following aspects of water consumption: First, the media and government officials referred the drought to an abnormal crisis by using war and sacrilegious metaphors, while most of practitioners tended to define it as a result of improper water management policies. Second, water-saving techniques, such as low-flush toilets and water-saving washing machine, were encouraged and integrated into daily water conservation practices. However, the participants encountered trade-offs between water-saving and the demand for living standards. Eventually the use of techniques were negotiated with family water culture and sometimes obstructed water saving practices. Third, the official and media narratives of drought-fighting were not effectively incorporated into the participants' domestic water consumption practices. Therefore, respondents interviewed still recognized the drought as a short-term inconvenience instead of a long-term risk of climate change.