Mixing dirt with water. Or, on the importance of keeping the bacteria content
Marianne de Laet
(Harvey Mudd College)
Paper short abstract:
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.
Paper long abstract:
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.
In other words: caring for water