Water matters: infringing the water-society divide through more than human engagements

Type: Virtual Paper
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Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 19
Organizers: Alejandro Barcena, Maria Rusca, Filippo Menga
Chairs: Maria Rusca


Critical water studies have focused on how choreographies of power produce uneven waterscapes, characterised by asymmetric access and distribution of water (Kooy, 2014; Sultana, 2013; Budds and Hinojosa, 2012; Swyngedouw, 1997). This body of work, however, has given limited attention to the force of infrastructure and the agential properties of water in the co-constitution of their waterscapes, despite a growing interest during recent years (Deitz and Meehan, 2019; Menga and Swyngedouw, 2018; Rusca et al., 2017). This analytical focus would challenge instrumental readings of water and infrastructure and provide insights on how multiple and dispersed agencies, emerging from the relationships binding human and non-humans, produce temporal and spatial water scales. Deploying these lenses, the papers of this session contribute to more-than-human geographies of water, building on the earlier material turn in resource geographies (Bakker and Bridge, 2006), the more recent examinations of the agential properties of matter (Bennett, 2010) and of the force-full attributes of objects (Meehan, 2014).
This session contributes to deconstruct the human/non-human dichotomy that still prevails in water studies by decentring the human as the subject of change and mobilising a relational perspective on agency. Considering how the materiality of water and hydraulic infrastructure interact with the social worlds with which they are enmeshed is a productive entry point to capture the relational agency emerging from water, bodies, society and space. In addition to this, this session examines how the immaterial (Latham and McCormak, 2004), or the excessiveness of a material world assembled out of socionatures, shapes future political possibilities. This serves to deepen the philosophical foundations and critical understandings of “nature-society encounters” (Collard et al., 2018: 1) and to advance a new materialism in geography. Drawing on the Special Issue Water matters: infringing the water-society divide through more than human engagements (Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, forthcoming), Menga et al. discusse the theoretical, methodological and political implications of taking the materiality of water and hydraulic infrastructure seriously to explain the co-constitution of social and material worlds. Hurst and Ellis examine the liveliness of two wastewater treatment plants in rural India to show how the more-than-human labour involved in these sites produced uneven vulnerabilities and water quality knowledges. Tracing these labour interactions, Hurst and Ellis explain the stabilisation and transformation of hydrosocial power relations. Barcena shows the urbanisation trajectories of a peri-urban neighbourhood of Dakar by examining the (re)assembling processes derived from the interaction of floods, political identities and macro-economic risk mitigation programmes. As a consequence, the space of political possibilities was transformed, and a network of drainage canals was built, transferring flood risk elsewhere. Savelli et al. examine the materiality of droughts in Landismith, South Africa, to show that social power not only shapes vulnerability but also the manifestation of hazard events themselves. Tracing the more-than-human engagements of climate, land, hydrological flows and capital intensive white agricultural, authors extend political ecology of droughts to include socio-material interactions.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Filippo Menga*, University of Reading, Maria Rusca, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden; Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS), 75236 Uppsala, Sweden, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, 75236 Uppsala, Sweden; Centre of Natural Hazards and Disaster Science (CNDS), 75236 Uppsala, Sweden; Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance, IHE Delft, 2611 AX Delft, The Netherlands, Alison Browne, School of Environment, Education and Development, Manchester University, M13 9PL Manchester, UK, More-than-human geographies of water: infringing the water society divide 15 8:00 AM
Presenter Elliot Hurst*, University of Stirling, Rowan Ellis, James Hutton Institute, Lively water infrastructure: constructed wetlands in more-than-human waterscapes 15 8:15 AM
Presenter Alejandro Barcena*, King's College London, The shape of Dakar’s risk flows: an emergent assemblage of youth, political entrepreneurs and flood mitigation programmes 15 8:30 AM
Presenter Elisa Savelli*, Uppsala University, Maria Rusca, Uppsala University, Hannah Cloke, University of Reading, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Uppsala University, All dried up: the materiality of drought in Ladismith, South Africa 15 8:45 AM
Discussant Colin Mcfarlane Durham University 15 9:00 AM

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