Lively water infrastructure: constructed wetlands in more-than-human waterscapes

Authors: Elliot Hurst*, University of Stirling, Rowan Ellis, James Hutton Institute
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Animal Geographies
Keywords: water, more-than-human, infrastructure, hydrosocial
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 19
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Water infrastructures are often living infrastructures; their operation relies on processes involving non-human living beings. More generally, the material-semiotic processes that shape and reshape waterscapes have a more-than-human dimension. Attending to this dimension gives critical studies of water greater depth. This paper first develops a conceptual framework bringing hydrosocial scholarship into conversation with more-than-human geography. The results of applying such a framework are demonstrated through three "stories of intra-action". These highlight the capacities and affordances of plant, animal and microbial life across two case studies sited in rural India. In both case studies, the water infrastructure in question is a ‘constructed wetland’, designed for wastewater treatment. This type of ‘natural’ wastewater infrastructure makes issues of multispecies interaction particularly salient. Constructed wetlands rely on more-than-human labor to transform waste waters, while the presence of ‘unwanted’ organisms creates unevenly distributed vulnerabilities. We argue that paying attention to various living beings reveals their vital role in both material transformations of water quality, and in the production of water quality knowledges. This approach draws on interdisciplinary methods cutting across ecology and qualitative field studies. Tracing more-than-human interactions in waterscapes assists in mapping the power relations through which hydrosocial relations are stabilised or transformed. This conceptual approach also points to alternative formulations of waterscape ethics.

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