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The Social Life of Water

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The Social Life of Water

Edited by John Richard Wagner

326 pages, 24 illus., 18 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-0-85745-966-4 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (August 2013)

ISBN  978-1-78238-910-1 $29.95/£23.95 Pb Published (March 2015)

eISBN 978-0-85745-967-1 eBook

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


The Social Life of Water successfully addresses a wide range of issues concerning the meanings and uses of water in relation to culture, society, and development. As a volume, it shows how a focus on social life opens up new analytical possibilities of broader relevance to the study of water. Moreover, many of the chapters explore contexts and regions not previously covered in work on these topics.” · Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute

“…this volume [is to be] recommended to readers interested in the anthropology of water and to those who wish to teach a course on the subject for both undergraduate and graduate students. The diversity of the topics covered in the book and the methodological and theoretical issues raised, provide several excellent teachable moments not to be missed. It also testifies to the richness of topics and ways in which the social lives of water can and should be explored by anthropologists in the future.” · Anthropological Notebooks

“For anthropologists working in the water field, the book provides useful material to help the water field incorporate good social practice, research and theory into a transdisciplinary field currently interested in incorporating it into policy and management.” · Water Alternatives

“This book fills an important niche on water related issues in anthropology by focusing on social and cultural manifestations of water management, use, and conflict… The organization is appropriate and effective.”  ·  Benedict J. Colombi, American Indian Studies Program, University of Arizona


Everywhere in the world communities and nations organize themselves in relation to water. We divert water from rivers, lakes, and aquifers to our homes, workplaces, irrigation canals, and hydro-generating stations. We use it for bathing, swimming, recreation, and it functions as a symbol of purity in ritual performances. In order to facilitate and manage our relationship with water, we develop institutions, technologies, and cultural practices entirely devoted to its appropriation and distribution, and through these institutions we construct relations of class, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. Relying on first-hand ethnographic research, the contributors to this volume examine the social life of water in diverse settings and explore the impacts of commodification, urbanization, and technology on the availability and quality of water supplies. Each case study speaks to a local set of issues, but the overall perspective is global, with representation from all continents.

John R. Wagner is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. He conducts research in Canada, the United States and Papua New Guinea and has published several journal articles on water governance in the Okanagan Valley. In 2007 he was lead guest editor of Customs, Commons, Property and Ecology, a special edition of Human Organization devoted to an analysis of Pacific Island customary property rights systems. Recent publications include “Water and the Commons Imaginary” in the Public Anthropology Forum of Current Anthropology (2012).

Subject: Environmental Studies (General) Anthropology (General)


List of Figures
List of Tables
Notes on Contributors

John Richard Wagner

Part I: Commodification

Chapter 1. Contesting Equivalences: Controversies over Water and Mining in Chile and Peru
Fabiana Li

Chapter 2. Dam Nation: Cubbie Station and the Waters of the Darling
Veronica Strang

Chapter 3.  Water and Ill-being: Displaced People and Dam-based Development in India
Lyla Mehta                 

Part II: Water and Technology

Chapter 4. Aesthetics of a Relationship: Women and Water
Nefissa Naguib

Chapter 5. La Pila de San Juan: Historic Transformations of Water as a Public Symbol in Suchitoto, El Salvador
Hugo De Burgos

Chapter 6. Not so Boring. Assembling and Reassembling Groundwater Tales and Technologies from Malerkotla, Punjab
Rita Brara

Chapter 7. Kenyan Landscape, Identity and Access
Swathi Veeravali

Part III: Urbanization

Chapter 8. Health Challenges of Urban Poverty and Water Supply in Northern Ghana
Issaka Kanton Osumanu

Chapter 9. The Risk of Water: Dengue Prevention and Control in Urban Cambodia
Sarah C. Smith

Chapter 10. The Water Crisis in Ireland: The Socio-Political Contexts of Risk in Contemporary Society
Liam Leonard

Part IV: Governance

Chapter 11. Fairness and the Human Right to Water: A Preliminary Cross-cultural Theory
Amber Wutich, Alexandra Brewis, Sveinn Sigurdsson, Rhian Stotts, and Abigail York

Chapter 12. Indigenous Water Governance and Resistance: A Syilx Perspective
Marlowe Sam and Jeannette Armstrong

Chapter 13.  Bureaucratic Bricolage and Adaptive Co-management in Indonesian Irrigation
Bryan Bruns

Chapter 14. Anthropological Insights into Stakeholder Participation in Water Management of the Edwards Aquifer in Texas
John M. Donahue


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