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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


The hydrologic cycle: thinking relationships through water

Location Ülikooli 18, 307
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2013 at 10:30


Franz Krause (University of Cologne) email
Hugo Reinert (Tallinn University) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores how social relationships are intertwined with the circulation of water. It aims at highlighting the water-related aspects of circulation, as well as the circulatory and connecting aspects of dealing with water.

Long Abstract

Conceptualizing one of the discipline's core ideas, 'exchange', anthropologists have developed the metaphor of 'circulation' to account both for the necessity of giving and receiving in the forging of social relationships, and for the making of communities, hierarchies, enemies and taboos in the process. This is evident not only in Mauss's observations regarding the gift, but also in Malinowski's Kula Ring and the Bohannans' spheres of Tiv exchange.

Recent developments in anthropological theory have re-emphasized the material aspects of social and cultural life. Strang and others have demonstrated that in particular water is widely regarded as a cultural and material instantiation of relationships. Likewise in human geography, a number of studies have investigated the role of water in shaping communities and political struggles. Framing water and water networks as a socio-natural 'cyborg', Linton proposes to replace the concept of the hydrologic cycle with that of the 'hydrosocial cycle' as the latter more clearly emphasizes human engagement in the dynamics of water in the landscape.

This panel explores how social relationships are intertwined with the circulation of water. It aims at highlighting the water-related aspects of circulation, as well as the circulatory and connecting aspects of dealing with water. How are water provision and sewage systems constitutive and indicative of social relations? What role does water itself play in conflicts over water management, e.g. along rivers, on lakes and in wetlands? And how is the hydrologic - or 'hydrosocial' - cycle invoked and utilized by conflicting actors?

Discussant: Veronica Strang

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Navigating the "round river": Aldo Leopold and the hydrosocial imaginary

Author: Henry Dicks (University Jean Moulin Lyon 3)  email

Short Abstract

If Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic” laid the foundation for environmental ethics, his “Round River: A Parable” can be shown to provide the basis for a fertile hydrosocial imaginary, according to which to be human is to navigate the circular flow of nature's “Round River”.

Long Abstract

Leopold's "The Land Ethic" is widely thought to have laid the basis for environmental ethics. His lesser known, "Round River: A Parable", can provide the basis for an environmental ontology and poetics. According to Leopold, a bioregion can be conceived as a "Round River", that is, a circular flow of matter and energy. He concludes: "Ecology is destined to become the lore of Round River, a belated attempt to convert our collective knowledge of biotic materials into a collective wisdom of biotic navigation." These remarks mark a break with scientific ecology. Not only is knowledge to be "converted" into lore and wisdom, but the very concept of the "Round River" is explicitly recognized as a parable. Leopold extends the parable into the realm of the human: just as in "The Land Ethic" ethics is extended beyond politics and economics to the land, so politics and economics are interpreted here as "techniques" for navigating the "Round River". Such navigation cannot be interpreted in purely cybernetic terms: it is not simply a question of correcting deviations from a fixed linear goal (retroactive self-regulation), for self-regulation can only take place within nature's dynamic circular flow (recursive self-production). The paper will argue that the "Round River" not only provides an image of the basic ontology of nature qua "physis" or self-production (cf. Edgar Morin), but also shows how water's circular flow can provide the basis for a "hydrosocial imaginary" capable of enabling human societies to develop "techniques" that respect their ontological foundations.

The water tribunal of Valencia as a reservoir of long-lasting regional tradition

Author: Urszula Wilk (Institute of Iberian and Ibero-American Studies, University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

This study shows, on the example of the Water Tribunal of Valencia (Spain), the importance of a traditional institution that contributes to the strengthening of the local community by passing on oral tradition regarding rules of using water, an element of crucial importance to the inhabitants of the region.

Long Abstract

The aim of this study is to bring closer to our knowledge the history of The Water Tribunal of Valencia (el Tribunal de las Aguas de la Vega de Valencia), an institution deeply rooted in this region of Spain.

From its foundation many centuries ago, it sets out rules of using the basic good - water - without which la Vega de Valencia would not exist, and until this day is still present in official laws. Because of that it has not only been an element of greatest importance for the farmers of this fertile land, but above all, an important aspect in shaping social relationships in this community. Its exceptional processes have been conducted verbally and the tribunal rulings, although never put in writing, have always been decisive for the gathering.

As the Water Tribunal is a great example of intangible cultural heritage, we think that it is of utmost relevance to follow and transmit its practices to sustain this cultural practice, as it is showing how the ritual of weekly gatherings has contributed to the oral transmission of customs, preserving them almost unchanged over the history by passing it from generation to generation. By this it has helped to strengthen the local community, that has always not only respected its rulings but also collaborated actively in the process that we intend to thoroughly describe obtaining with this the full picture of one of the oldest judicial institutions in Europe and its impact on creating social relationships between the inhabitants of la Vega de Valencia.

From the hydrologic to the hydrosocial cycle: a relational-dialectical approach to water

Author: Jessica Budds (University of East Anglia)  email

Short Abstract

The hydrosocial cycle is a means of theorizing and analyzing water-society relations. Unlike the hydrologic cycle, it attends to water’s social and political nature. We employ a relational-dialectical approach to show how water and society make and remake each other over space and time.

Long Abstract

The relationship between water and society has come to the forefront of critical inquiry in recent years, attracting significant scholarly and popular interest. As the state hydraulic paradigm gives way to modes of water governance, there is a need for alternative concepts of water that recognize, reflect and represent its broader social dimensions. In this paper, we define and mobilize the concept of the hydrosocial cycle as a means of theorizing and analyzing water-society relations. The hydrosocial cycle is based on the concept of the hydrologic cycle, but modifies it in important ways. While the hydrologic cycle has the effect of separating water from its social context, the hydrosocial cycle deliberately attends to water's inherently social and political nature. Through the hydrosocial cycle, we seek to transcend the dualistic categories of 'water' and 'society', and employ a relational-dialectical approach to demonstrate how they make and remake each other over space and time. We argue that unravelling this historical and geographical process of making and remaking offers analytical insights into the social construction and production of water, the ways by which it is made known, and the power relations that are embedded in hydrosocial change. While existing work within the political ecology tradition considers the co-constitution of water and power, particularly in relation to processes of capital accumulation, we propose the hydrosocial cycle as a broader framework for attending to the ontology and epistemology of water within hydrosocial relations, and for undertaking critical political ecologies of water.

Liquid states: contested identities at the River Jordan

Author: Hannah Boast (University of York & University of Sheffield)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues that Israeli and Palestinian identities are constituted in important ways through the material and metaphorical meanings of water, particularly the water of the River Jordan.

Long Abstract

Control of water resources in Israel/Palestine has been a major cause of conflict, and the River Jordan, as water source and national border, has focused the attention of political scholars (Selby 2004, Allen 2002). While the Jordan's waters have been the subject of intensive political-ecological discussion, there has been little consideration of their social and cultural significance, in spite of a growing turn elsewhere towards the meanings of water (Strang 2004; Hahn, Cless and Soentgen 2012).

In response, this paper considers ways in which Israeli and Palestinian identities have been constituted in relation to the River Jordan. Drawing on Bauman's comments on the properties of liquids (2001), I argue that the capacity of the hydrological cycle to represent time and change is central to the value of the Jordan as a means to imagine Israeli and Palestinian communities, and also to assert ownership of the river. I discuss a number of striking literary examples of engagements between Israelis and Palestinians and the waters of the Jordan, exploring the sensory and material entanglement involved in swimming in the river (Smilansky 1910), as well as the relationship between the lack of circulation of today's ecologically degraded Jordan and the restricted mobility of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Territories (Barghouti 2003).

This paper shows that the Israel/Palestine struggle over access rights to the Jordan has a neglected dimension, in that it also involves a conflict between national identities that is played out through, and in, the medium of the water.

Lives captured in pipes: entrapping hydrosocial cycle in Aksu Valley, Eastern Anatolia

Author: Pervin Yanikkaya Aydemir (Yeditepe University, Istanbul)  email

Short Abstract

The poetic collective work which plays a significant role in the subsistence of local people using the circulation of water throughout a 35-km long valley in the Eastern Anatolia is at the threat of aggressive development projects.

Long Abstract

Water's vitality in circulation of life has been narrated for centuries by creation-cosmology myths such as Enûma Eliš, Popol Vuh and Ainu, and eschatological stories. The strong relationship between water and social life that has been developed and reinforced by such oral traditions for centuries has been dramatically interrupted with interventions in circulation of water by development projects. While both development and water have very important functions in human life, this interruption rooted the water out of its social context. During a 2-month fieldwork in one of the valleys in Eastern Anatolia, I had the chance to witness a poetic relationship local people have been experiencing with the stream which runs through a narrow valley until huge construction machines and crowded workforce appeared at the convergence of their stream and the Çoruh River. During my observations, in-depth interviews and focus group studies, their dynamic and intermingling interaction with water was evident as their daily life is based on the circulation of the water. They use water by ditches mainly for irrigation purposes in a collective way in regular turns, like their ancestors did for hundreds of years. The way these ditches are used is central to the subsistence of 4 villages and 18 quarters located in the valley, resulting in a strong 'hydrosocial cycle'. However, two HEPP projects already constructed and three others in progress take water away from these people with a dramatic intrusion in their 'isolated' hydrological cycle by capturing it in pipes.

Between stagnancy and affluence: people, water and hydrological discourse in Delhi, India

Author: Heather OLeary (Washington University in St Louis)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the circulation of people, water, and hydrological discourse in Delhi, India. It articulates how water, class, and social relationships are intertwined in tenements and informal "slum" housing, and how domestic workers make the transition to water-rich areas everyday.

Long Abstract

Everyday 1,000 people in-migrate to Delhi, India—some propelled by the promise of economic opportunities of the world-class city, and others pushed by stagnating growth of their villages or the fragmentation and desiccation of their farms. Several enter Delhi's informal economy as domestic workers, living in tenements or in illegal "slums" with limited access to the critical resource of water and then must cross daily into the water-rich areas where they are employed. This research explores the disparity of India's water access through the perspective of these domestic workers, who must cross literal and symbolic thresholds everyday. One salient change is their relationship to water as they move from their home environments, where the bare minimum of water is used to sustain them, into a water abundant culture that uses the resource liberally. As these workers step from their communities into the private spaces of the homes where they work, they are exposed to new ideologies of modernity, purification, and the value of water. This paper asks how marginalized stakeholders evaluate the legitimacy of the inculcation of modern, bourgeois, urban aesthetics and their implications on their access to water. Though domestic workers are implicit as producers of the world-class lifestyle, they are also agents that create innovative networks of social and infrastructural support, ultimately populating an integral part of modern urban water structures and cultures.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.