Based on water-related fieldwork in different regions and different languages, this panel addresses issues to do with the non-translatability of terms used in the care of and care for water -- starting with different language variants of the word 'care,' itself.
To 'meet' usually involves words; in the act of the coming together of people - be it in fieldwork, in debate, or in managerial /regulatory circumstances - language is at work. But words are notoriously unreliable, and especially when we 'meet' across languages, traduction est trahison. Translation is never complete; words are too much, or they are too little; local circumstances and practices are specific to the terms and frames in which they are "done." So, what to make of this - of the absence of perfect translatability? In the face of the non-translatable, what to do?
Based on water-related fieldwork in different regions and different languages, this panel addresses issues to do with the non-translatability of terms used in the care of and care for water. A starting point is the Dutch word 'zorg' which the dictionary translates as 'care', but which supports different practices than its English non-equivalent. Things are different again in Spanish, Bangla, or Sami. So here, we explore what the care of water in these various linguistic regimes entails in situated practices.
Our panel, then, stages a meeting of sorts, over the (im)possibility of meeting when words are too much, too different, or simply not enough.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Caring for the canal: exploring water management and cuidar
Through an ethnographic visit to the Huallabamba canal in the Peruvian Andes, we learn that the function of the irrigation system depends on adaptable care as much as on masterful control, something made invisible in the modern vocabulary of water management officials.
The Huallabamba canal is an inter-basin infrastructure in the Peruvian Andes that leads water from the Amazonian watershed to flow to the arid valley of Motupe on the Pacific coast, where it allows for agribusiness production and small holder sustenance and export cultivation. This canal is attended to by operators, water guards, locally called vigilantes. An ethnographic visit revealed that these men do not perform their task in the managerial, controlling way that modern irrigation professionals propose. Instead, they work in an improvising, tinkering way. Far removed from the irrigated command area, the vigilantes engage in daily canal walks and take on ad hoc repairs. They live with the canal: with its crumbling stones, its rapid waters and its unpredictable water creatures. In this way they keep the water flowing. It is the dedication of the vigilantes that allows for desert agriculture on the Peruvian coast. We therefore argue that the function of the irrigation system depends on adaptable care as much as on masterful control, something made invisible in the modern vocabulary of water management officials.
Groundwater and pataler pani in Dhaka
In Dhaka groundwater is an ever scarcer resource that pumped up with diesel and electric water pumps. It's extraction has exhausted pataler pani, water much closer to the surface that used to be accessed with the help of manual wells and hand tube wells.
This paper is about the contrast between 'groundwater' and pataler pani. Groundwater is an ever scarcer resource that in Dhaka may be located by geologists and that water engineers help to extract from the earth with ever deepening diesel and electric water pumps. Pataler pani by contrast was closer to the surface and used to be accessed with the help of manual wells (kua and idara) and hand tube wells. Heavy engineered groundwater extraction, in combination with urban 'land making' through filling water bodies, low- and wet-land within the Dhaka flood protection dykes with sand, has exhausted pataler pani. It also brought with it the decay of natural canals and teks (sand blocks); while a lot of surface water is no longer rejuvenated with upstream nuton pani (fresh water). This leaves agricultural land bereft of natural sedimentation and turns the surface water into kala-pani (rotten still water). Groundwater extraction has also eradicated a range of care practices through which people in Dhaka used to care for ponds, canals and jheels that provided them with water for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing animals and water transport. All in all, this is a sad story about some of the ways in which a Dhaka life centred around flowing water now only exists in vibrant memories of a generation ago.
Mixing dirt with water. Or, on the importance of keeping the bacteria content
Among water purification methods, enrolling bacteria is hailed as sustainable, environmentally-sensitive, organic. I explore human-organism collaborations in clean water practices and the terms that secure them. Care doesn't translate easily; "meeting" may be how language and practices relate.
Among water purification methods, enrolling bacteria to do the job is hailed, variously, as sustainable, environmentally-sensitive, organic. This paper explores such human-organism collaborations in clean water practices and the terms that secure them. In particular, it probes the language and associated behaviors of "keeping the bacteria content." Based on fieldwork in The Netherlands and California, the paper narrates a series of "meetings" between humans and organisms: between bacteria that "clean" and the bacteria that "make one sick"; between organisms that assist in water purification and their (self-described) care-takers, collaborators, or bosses; between words and the actions they imply. Care - care for water, care for organisms, and care for humans - is captured in different terms in different circumstances and it doesn't translate easily from one language to another; the paper suggests that "meeting" may be an operative term for how language and practices relate.
On Sámi words and lakes: mistranslation as colonisation
Norwegian environmental policy divides nature from culture in ways that damage Sámi care for lakes. The paper explores the Sámi term jávredikšun, and considers the analytical and political significance of refusing to translate such non-binary and environmentally-relevant indigenous words.
Norwegian environmental policy divides nature and culture and seeks to protect landscapes from human activity. The idea is that natural forces should be allowed to operate without human interference. As a result, it becomes difficult or impossible for indigenous Sámi fisherpeople to care for their lakes. Sámi water-related practices are contextual and embodied, and caring for lakes involves a weave of material and social practices that include the need to sustain respectful relations with powerful and morally lively non-human actors.
This conflict between the nature-culture binaries of Norwegian policy and Sámi understandings of landscape and water is indexed in a range of colonising linguistic differences. Norwegian terms are mistranslated into Sámi with important policy-relevant consequences, while environmentally-relevant Sámi words translate poorly into Norwegian or English. In this paper we focus on the notion of jávredikšun, a key term for Sámi people who fish on inland lakes. We explore how this word indexes non-dualist environmental actions and realities that translate only with difficulty into Norwegian or English, and consider the potential political and analytical significance of refusing the translation of such environmentally-relevant indigenous words.
Schoon and other goods pertinent to water care in the Netherlands
What is it for water to be 'schoon'? This Dutch word mostly translates into English as 'clean'; but sometimes rather resonates 'beautiful'. The paper takes this layered word as an occasion to explore felicitous and terse relations between different modes of valuing.
In the Netherlands water care includes the persistent pumping of water from polder land that finds itself is below sea level. Hence, ground water levels are regulated, in ways that are contentious, as farmers have different water wishes than, say, birds. Water care also includes keeping, or making, water 'schoon' - clean - either clean enough for downstream eco-systems to survive; or clean enough to keep people bound to drink it from falling ill. The bacteria that 'do the cleaning work for us' (as the technicians say) thrive on the faeces and urine flushed out through toilets, but have trouble with undue additions, such as drugs. And they also don't like cleaning products - used by people to clean their bodies and houses; after which they dirty the water in which they flow out to rivers and seas. What can we learn about normativity from analysing how various goods and bads are in tension here?
The continuity and translations of the river Emscher
Steadily through the centuries, the river Emscher runs through the Ruhr District: once a landscape of swamps and streams, then a canal of toxic water and currently turned into technoscientific nature. I tell the story of the Emscher as a story of varying material-semiotic interrelations of care.
Tell the story of the river Emscher, and you tell the history of the Ruhr District. While the river Ruhr delivered drinking water, the Emscher took care of the faeces, and seemed inappropriate as name-giver to the region. "Köttelbäcke" (Köttel = rodent droppings; Bäcke = diminutive of a brook) was its pet name throughout the golden age of the German mining industry - appropriately non-translatable, and so restricting the flow of talk about the Emscher while its toxic water flooded its surroundings. In the early 20th century the stinking water got a 100 km long concrete "corset", and warning signs of the mortal danger of falling into the river made people turn their backs to the Emscher. The late 20th century's decline of the mining industry spurred growth in the talk about the river. Additional to epidemiological terms, chemical, biological, hydraulic and ecological vocabularies started encircling the slowly running water, along with urban political and art talk, water management terminologies and concepts of citizen participation. A 30-year project was initiated to "renaturate" the Emscher, which came to be known as the "Emscher 3.0".
I am fascinated by the steadiness of the water and of the stream across their several translations and transformations. The paper discusses how the water of the Emscher has taken care of varying concerns throughout its Modern history, and how the Emscher water has been cared for in varying ways. It is a story of continuity across translations, and of material-semiotic interrelations of care.
Water, solidarity and the hereafter in Madagascar: or how to keep society and the pump running?
This paper explores the two particular notions of fihavanana and adidy that are invoked by the users of the Malagasy bush pump. Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in southeastern Madagascar it will interrogate the (im)possibilities of translating these idiosyncratic terms.
This paper explores how the Malagasy bush pump is made to work (or not) through the eyes of its users. Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out in southeastern Madagascar I seeks to shed light on the cultural practices surrounding the pumps and ask whether there are ways to translate the idiosyncratic notions of fihavanana (caring, sharing, giving, solidarity, reciprocity and/ or social bonds) and adidy (moral obligation to pay, everyone contributes to the obligation to share wealth, contribution fee to upkeep and maintain the pumps) meaningfully. The notion of fihavanana (which encapsulates, but is not limited to, the idea of care) is an imbricative concept that belongs both to the cultural as well as to the spiritual realm. By shining light on the manifold translations that these notions invoke by the pumps' users, it will be demonstrated that caring for water essentially means caring for each other, in the here and in the hereafter. But what does caring really mean in practice when it seeks to bridge the gap between the past and the present, the rich and the poor, the dead and the living? In other words, do we exhaust all its cultural meanings by simply adding words?
Ways of encountering water: ethics of freediving
Based on an ongoing study of freediving, the sport of diving as long or deep under water without assisting air, this paper looks into the ethos of aquatic encounters by investigating various ways of diving and the role of instructors in providing and mediating experiences.
In freediving, care for water becomes a priority, regardless of divers' political orientations. Having serene encounters with this natural element make freedivers certain of their superior access into the nature of water and our own bodies. Similar to scuba divers, who learn about marine conservation as part of their training, freedivers have personal experiences of this natural element, which makes it something worth protecting. Yet, freedivers moreover see their experiences of water as unmediated encounters (despite use of equipment), and thus stress that their practice outlines a strategy for caring for marine environments as well as for our own bodily natures.
In this paper, we look into the different ways in which freedivers dive, outlining differences between seeing water as a medium for individual triumph or a medium for transformative personal explorations. Yet, this apparent opposition between heroism and holism is brought together in the practice of freediving, where a quantifying set-up provides a frame for entering and encountering the aquatic environment. Empirically, the presentation is based on interviews with 24 excellent freedivers (of 17 different nationalities), accompanied by auto-ethnography of freediving, and experiences of being a freediving instructor (one of the authors) for several years.
As a focus point for our investigation, we address the role of freediving instructors. Often, the extraordinary freediver is portrayed as an epitome of individual accomplishment. Yet, we will turn attention to the role played by instructors in outlining strategies for divers and providing translations of bodily sensations from underwater breath-hold into verbalized experiences.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.