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

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Water circulation and the remaking of power, development and agency

Location Jakobi 2, 428
Date and Start Time 02 July, 2013 at 10:30


James Howard (NomadIT) email
Joonas Plaan (Memorial University of Newfoundland) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores the nexus between the symbolic and material aspects of water. It aims to examine water as a way to develop, manage and cultivate, as well as to transmit, transform and circulate symbolic aspects.

Long Abstract

Water as an essence of life and more importantly, as a source of social formation, has been and increasingly is a social and political issue. The way water circulation is managed through dams, water wells, irrigation systems, reservoirs and other human creations, remakes social relations, myths and rituals but also power relationships and conflicts. Geertz' study of the Balinese Subak and Moroccan irrigation is just one example how the process of managing water circulation forges power relationships.

Recent studies show that the competition for the right to manage water between different interest groups is increasing (Bakker 2003, Mosse 2003, Strang 2009), creating and re-creating, transforming and transmitting new material and symbolic aspects of water. Water circulation links various agents and their interests; whether development program, conservation project or tourism enterprise, water circulates the indeterminacies of agency and knowledge. Moreover, frictions between 'local' knowledge and national or global water management aims often become evident around water conflicts.

This panel explores how the symbolic and material aspects of water are intertwined and linked. Its aim is to highlight that water circulation creates various agents and their agencies, power relationships and new symbolic perceptions. The panel set out to address several questions, including: how water circulation creates different perceptions; how social relations are created through water circulations and management; how different agents negotiate water management; and how different conceptualisations of water, its utility and importance mix when flows of local values and ancient traditions meet global and national interests and knowledge about water.

Discussant: Veronica Strang

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Dynamics of water: understanding human-environment relationships in the Vuoksi River valley, Finland

Author: Kristiina Korjonen-Kuusipuro  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of the Vuoksi River in human-environment relationships. The Vuoksi is a field of political struggles, social construction and as a part of everyday practices. The picture is drawn from local and spatial contexts, from wider historical causes and effects and social processes.

Long Abstract

The Vuoksi is a place where ecological, economical, socio-cultural and political aspects are entwined. This paper discusses the changes of the Vuoksi River, the causes of these changes and the altering values of the water. Further, it deals with the place of the Vuoksi River in people's lives. The discussed changes have taken place in (1) the physical Vuoksi (2) the governance of the Vuoksi and (3) the significance of the Vuoksi. Physically, the Vuoksi as a currant has changed because of the construction of hydropower plants. The most dramatic changes in the governance of the Vuoksi took place when Finland ceded the area of Karelian Isthmus to the Soviet Union first after the Winter War 1940, and finally in 1944, after the Continuation War. The Vuoksi became a transnational resource of the Finland and the Soviet Union. The significance of the Vuoksi is strongly connected to the memories that the locals have from their everyday relationship with it.

This paper demonstrates that the long-term changes in both the governance and the physical river have had their effects on people's relationship with the Vuoksi. However, these changes have not altered the fact that the Vuoksi is important for the local people. Multiple changes have added new layers of narratives, new meanings and new dimensions to the Vuoksi River. Today there is a Vuoksi that is built by many different, but parallel—and sometimes even conflicting—narratives. Out of these narratives, a hybrid of continuity and change is formed.

Cover that flow that I must not see… water indicators as technologies of government

Author: Sara Fernandez (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS))  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores how indicators deployed to manage water resources are indicative of social relations. It studies the manner indicators shape specific hydrosocial cycles while hiding the political work they actually perform. This is investigated through a case study located in southwestern France.

Long Abstract

The many methods scientists deploy to assess "environmental flows" worldwide or the manner the World Bank conceives them usually fall into the "integrated water resources management" (IWRM) paradigm that became hegemonic in the 1990s. They portray river systems as being driven by anonymous and a-temporal forces, as if identifying actors behind such forces did not matter, nor did it matter when they took decisions resulting in the current environmental state, nor what benefit they made out of it.

The proposed paper critically explores the discourses and practices involved in the definition, promotion, design and use of indicators to manage water resources. It analyzes the manner indicators contribute to shape specific hydrosocial cycles, i.e. specific combinations of water, power and financial flows. The paper highlights the ability of indicators to erase history and naturalize rationales, while they are the product of specific compromises, of particular combinations of negotiated norms and scientifically produced nature. These issues are investigated through an empirical analysis of a specific indicator, the "Minimum Flow Requirements" (MFR) and its associated biophysical models, developed and used in the South-West of France. The MFR is shown to be an instrument regulating power and financial relations of heterogeneous actors. It has actively contributed to naturalize water scarcity, despite the contingency of its construction.

Water is a debt: "sons of the soil" and water circulation among Kaolack communities, Senegal

Author: Veronica Gomez Temesio (Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon)  email

Short Abstract

As Senegal is achieving the MDGs by privatizing water supply, I explore how water circulation sheds light on social norms of power as well as on the process of state formation. The paper will focus on “sons of the soil”, connected civil servants who sponsor water supply in their communities of birth.

Long Abstract

In order to achieve the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals) agenda, Senegal is currently privatizing rural water supply. In the region of Kaolack, the State has delegated water management to local user committees. Water circulation among Kaolack communities sheds light on a conflict inherent in development policies. What is really water? It has officially no price: water access has been defined as a fundamental human right during the IDWSSD (International Decade for Water Supply and Sanitation, 1980-1990). But water is also an economic good: development policies gradually consented its market value since the 1990s. Both paradigms jointly define water only from the financial, legal and technical terms of access. However, as Gruenais points out, the relationship connecting men to space and water leads directly "at the heart of politics" (1986: 284).

I will explore water circulation through its dysfunction: the water supply failure. When this occurs in a community, the "son of the soil" is an informal key alternative to officials appointed by user committees. "Sons" have several points in common: born in the village, they work as administrative executives in Dakar and are connected to the ruling party. Water (non) circulation highlights social norms of exchange and debt bonding together communities and state reprensentatives. In this context, water is neither a right nor an economic good: what run daily through water taps are social norms. In this sense, water gives the opportunity to explore the process of state formation by disentangling the immaterial namely: power and affect.

Co-management of the ornamental fishery in southern Sri Lanka: who controls access and manages the coastal sea?

Authors: James Howard (NomadIT)  email
Sandra Bell (Durham University)  email
Terney Pradeep Kumara (University of Ruhuna)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores how the circulation of the goods, services and value of marine waters in southern Sri Lanka has resulted in recent attempts to change the governance of the ornamental fishery in response to both local and global pressures.

Long Abstract

In response to perceived local degradation of coral reefs and nearshore waters in southern Sri Lanka, as well as to western-science led advice to improve marine and reef fisheries management, the government of Sri Lanka seeks to initiate a co-management scheme of the ornamental fishery. The declared aim is to prevent further deleterious effects to the marine waters, as well as safeguarding of local people's livelihoods in accordance with international poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation goals. The productivity of these coastal waters, which provide for local and global consumers, has declined in recent times while local communities' dependence upon them has increased. This circulation of goods, services and value of these waters and the actions of people who rely on them has resulted in power struggles developing among agencies with divergent agendas. These range from a variety of often conflicting interests seeking to control access, maximise profits and/or preserve and restore biodiversity.

Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the region, this paper uncovers the currently negative power and blame dynamics and the lack of trust, co-operation and respect of knowledge bases circulating between the different levels of societal groups involved in using and managing the coastal seas. The paper assesses the extent to which these conflicts derive from international pressure for developing countries to achieve conservation targets and/or the local interpretation of these global initiatives. It also discusses the potential for new forms of participatory governance to shift the fishery and its encompassing waters toward a more sustainable marine hydro-social pathway.

Knowing and managing the seascape: circulation of local knowledge and scientific knowledge in Kihnu Island, Estonia

Author: Joonas Plaan (Memorial University of Newfoundland)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores local knowledge about marine resources and its relations with scientific knowledge in Kihnu Island, Estonia. I will demonstrate how knowledge circulation has affected local practices and power relations in the seascape and how managing the sea is negotiated today.

Long Abstract

The seascape around Kihnu Island is a place where islander's identity and their livelihoods are continuously circulated with the discourse of conservation regulations and state power. The sea has been a source of social formation and inspiration for cultural life but also a place where knowledge is circulated. This paper will show that rather than suppressing local knowledge, scientific knowledge is unstable and fragile and the circulation of different agencies in the sea continuously create and transform the knowledge about the marine resources into socially accepted knowledge. In a situation where locals in Kihnu Island struggle to invoke their cultural identity and local ways to manage marine resources, while conservation officials contend with EU regulations, state legislations and unstable bureaucracy, the knowledge about the sea is constantly been recreated and transformed. Circulation is a process where past events, the changing environment, and various groups and agencies interact and negotiate. Thus, circulation of discourse creates, transforms and changes local and scientific knowledge thru interactions and negotiations in the seascape.

This paper has two aims. First, I suggest that local environmental knowledge is never discovered or invented but created through circulation of social interactions and human encounters in the past and at the present. Second, I show how the circulation of local knowledge is woven into contemporary discussions about conservation, protecting endangered species and controlling fisheries.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.