Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change

Managing Global Water. Ethnography of Emerging Practices in the Anthropocene
Location Senate House - Torrington Room
Date and Start Time 28 May, 2016 at 14:30
Sessions 2


  • Elena Bougleux (University of Bergamo) email
  • Nadia Breda (Università degli studi di Firenze (Italy)) email

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Short Abstract

We compare practices of water consumption, recycle and optimization, enacted by different subjects worldwide to cope with the global water crisis. We consider the combination of new knowledge and traditional skills as emerging strategies, including rhetorical and political aspects of the discussion.

Long Abstract

Water is a primary resource, highly sensitive to the major environmental transformations induced by climate change. Water emergency is a key issue in the general resource crisis characterizing the Anthropocene (OECD 2014, UNESCO 2014). Freshwater consumption rates show a continuous increase (Steffen et al. 2007). The largest part of water global resources is exploited at industrial level, in energy production processes and agriculture. Smaller contributions to water consumption are due to private use and livelihoods. At the same time, main environmental crisis are directly connected with altered planetary water cycles, with severe consequences brought by the increase in droughts, floods, consumers' costs, rationing (Dove 2013, Hastrup 2009).

In this framework, the panel seeks to investigate in a comparative way the water management practices enacted by different subjects developed to cope with the emergencies of the water global crisis. The panel focuses on:

- the innovative, potentially sustainable strategies enhanced by large scale goods producers and small scale private consumers, combining new knowledge and traditional skills;

- detailed analysis of the entire water cycle, from extraction to use, recycle or discharge, focusing on the role played by technical and non-technical actors in proposing and shaping sustainable approaches;

- ethnographic analysis of the rhetorical and emotional relationship developed by consumers about the issue of water consumption' reduction, emphasizing the discrepancies between declared possibilities, completed projects, and effective success of sustainable water related initiatives;

- ethnographic accounts of the political dimensions involved in the water management global discussion related to sustainability issues.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Water Saving in Drought Conditions: Maximising options in new modern societies.

Author: Rebecca Pearce (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the Theory of Blind Belief in Commodified Resources emerging from research on domestic water use during drought in southern England. Interactions with 64 households revealed their unique water habits and abilities to maintain normal usage despite ongoing water saving campaigns.

Long Abstract

In a Classic Grounded Theory study of 64 households in southern England during the 2010- 2012 drought, to maintain their belief in the constant availability of water as a commodified resource during times of scarcity, individuals were observed completing the basic social process of maximising options by ensuring there were widespread opportunities to access water, in all aspects of their daily life, despite being asked to conserve it. To achieve this, a number of conscious and seemingly sub-conscious ploys were used to justify a perceived personal ownership of natural water resources by virtue of being a water customer.

These observations provide a useful lens through which to view the management and use of water resources in an affluent society, where the provision of clean water, on-tap has become an integral part of everyday life that goes beyond being a vital resource for drinking and sanitation. The distinction between end-of-pipe user and customer is somewhat blurred in these circumstances and the creative application of personal sanctions during water saving campaigns, in the main act as barriers to effective water saving inside the home.

To achieve sustainable water provision these features of new modern life warrant careful consideration by water managers who may harbour similarly false beliefs about customer behaviours and willingness to conserve on demand.

Making a whole in the water: an anthropological approach to water consumption in urban Romania

Author: Maria Salaru (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore multiple, fragmented, and often contradictory practices surrounding water use inside people’s homes and in their wider community in urban Romania.

Long Abstract

This paper will explore multiple, fragmented, and often contradictory practices surrounding (warm and cold) water consumption inside people's homes and in their wider community in Romania. It forms part of a larger research project that expands upon current anthropological debates in architecture, ecology and economic anthropology in order to examine how rapidly changing everyday life impacts on domestic energy consumption in post-soviet cities, but also beyond. Based on long term participant observation and innovative visual methodologies, I will focus on the role various social actors play in the circulation and use of water in a block of flats in Piatra Neamt, Romania. In most urban buildings, the inhabitants calculate their warm and cold water consumption themselves, and report to the building administrator with a number which is often untruthful, resulting in a huge difference between the reported amount and the total consumption. This considered, I will focus on the everyday practices of water consumption in some of these apartments, and relate them to the larger material and social discourses concerning water use in post-socialism. My findings so far highlight the importance of increased water price in shaping Romanians' attitude towards water saving practices. I will conclude with a discussion about the institutional framework of the regional water company in Piatra-Neamt (and how it contributed to rocketing prices) and about the subsequent politics of the entire water cycle, from extraction to use.

Viticulture's Global Water Footprint: An Unaffordable Luxury?

Author: Linda Johnson-Bell (The Wine and Climate Change Institute / Global Climate Adaptation Partnership)  email

Short Abstract

When vitis vinifera is grown outside its indigenous regions, irrigation is necessary. 99% of the water used in wine-making is for irrigation. In fact, irrigation is viticulture's number one adaptation ally, whilst it is mitigation's number one foe.

Long Abstract

Climatologists love wine. The vitis vinifera is the crop most susceptible to changes in climate, and its harvest conditions and migration patterns serve as models for future climate scenarios. It is interesting then, that this thirsty $30 billion international industry and its water emergency has not come into sufficient focus. Cultural traditions and consumer attachment to this luxury commodity has protected it from scrutiny: wine grapes rarely feature in discussions of water competition: when in fact, there are regions (ex. South Australia) where local water licenses are allocated to wineries rather than to agricultural crops and livestock.

The Water Footprint Network reports that it takes 29 gallons (131 litres) of water for a glass of wine (comprising blue, green and grey). This calculation would have taken into account the type and frequency of irrigation, planting density, type of rootstock, trellising style, soil properties, varietal and a vineyard's temperatures, wind and sun exposure. With more erratic harvest conditions existing within increasing temperatures (weather vs climate), the majority of the world's viticulturists are under threat from drought. Water prices are crippling and over-irrigation leads to soils too-heavily salinated to sustain any further agriculture.

This paper is concerned with investigating the comparative use of blue water (irrigation) amongst the principal wine regions: techniques employed; type of water used (recycled/fresh); resulting yield ratios (on average, irrigated yields are larger than rain-fed yields which can skewer the footprint calculation); and examines the industry's adaption methods in regard to irrigation.

Water and the Other: variations in the perception of fluids through the prism of appropriation strategies of exotic and invasive filtering molluscs in the Venitian lagoon

Author: Florence Ménez (EHESS)  email

Short Abstract

An invasive non-native clam, controversial subject of consumption, reveals the ambivalent thought and interspecific relationships of the living beings about the water; the subjective scale of powers of contamination or purification of the fluid throughout its cycle is constantly redefined.

Long Abstract

Inseminated for an experience made by the Province of Venice in 1983, Tapes philippinarum has been an unexpected source of prosperity ; it has been also at the origin of changes in the technical, symbolic and legislative appropriation of lagoon resources, and in the understanding of the environment for fishermen and institutions.

While this invasive and non-native species lives at the interface between water and sediment in some polluted areas of the lagoon, thinking it as "good to eat" requires considering beneficial the cycle of brackish water, which the clam filters for feeding, and which influences its growth and organoleptic qualities.

How to determine and discern tangible evidence of pollution or safety while both are invisible in a fluid, in the context of new fishery dynamics on the environmental management policy?

This contribution is fruit of an ethnographic inquiry carried out between 2009 and 2014 among the littoral inhabitants of the Venetian lagoon. The study analyzed the new ways of representing the symbolic bricolage of the testing laboratories, of the role of filtering molluscs or diseases as measurement units, and finally, of the purifying role of seawater or freshwater.

These representations on the water cycle as a constant ongoing process are so essential, that they influence the issue of shellfish licenses and fishing plans established by the Province of Venice. Each human being of this environment gives the clam a political role of health sentinel while building a poetic exchange of solid / liquid evolving.

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This panel is closed to new paper proposals.