‘A Community of Fear’: Emotion and the Hydro-Social Cycle in East Porterville

Authors: Michael Egge*, Portland State University, Idowu Ajibade, Portland State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, United States
Keywords: water access, water security, emotion, hydro-social cycle, California
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Balcony A, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Water security has been recognized as a global concern and an environmental justice issue. Quality, quantity, and access to water are persistently unevenly distributed across multiple geographic and spatial scales, with severe implications for marginalized communities and groups. In this paper, we draw on emotional political ecology to interrogate household water (in) security within the hydro-social cycle. We identify the role of emotions in water access and contestations in the historically marginalized community of East Porterville, California; a community plagued by frequent droughts and dry wells. Drawing on interviews with residents, local experts, and government officials, we explore how water shortages intertwine with politics and culture to produce various emotional experiences that acted as a barrier to water access for some groups, and simultaneously as an enabler to water security for others. For the latter, suffering amongst residents inspired compassion and shame among others, creating opportunities for personal and community access to public water. This study shows how individual emotional experience within the hydro-social cycle recursively affects the flow of water, or the lack thereof, in communities. Water flows toward households that could access the benefits of emotional appeals. However, immigrants’ fear of the government persisted, despite repeated efforts to ease this emotional barrier, preventing a safer source of water for many homes. In this way, there remains an unequal balance of water distribution and power dynamics in the community.

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