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date: 28 June 2022

Water Ownership and Governancelocked

Water Ownership and Governancelocked

  • Sally BabidgeSally BabidgeSchool of Social Science, University of Queensland

Summary

Water governance refers to the material and regulatory control of water and waters. It involves questions such as who makes decisions about water and how; at what scale such decisions are made in relation to different waters; and who and which water or ecosystem benefits. Classical work in anthropology considered how irrigation practices may have given rise to the development of state forms, and in response to early-21st-century privatization regimes, anthropologists have considered how different groups have challenged the apparent global dominance of commodity values and water as property. Infrastructures for water distribution in urban areas (such as systems of canals, pipes, and faucets), and considerations of the sociocultural effects of hydrological unit delineation and definition (e.g., groundwater or river “basins”) have become key sites for the ethnographic investigation of water governance, emerging forms of personhood, and societal inequalities. The diversity in anthropologies of water unsettles generalized models in global regimes of water governance.

The anthropology of water governance and ownership considers the context and contingencies of water and power. It reveals the global dominance of markets, rights, and technical approaches to water management, such as the case of “private water” in Chile, in which water markets have failed to provide equity and environmental health, but also how certain groups avoided complete privatization of water under this extreme example. Ethnographic studies of the cultural organization of resource scarcity over topographically complex and remote terrain, such as that of irrigators in the Andean cordillera, express the diversity of human innovation at the intersection of politics and ecology. In arid South Eastern Australia, basin plans that treat water as a unit of calculation and economic trade place social and ecological relations in peril. Infrastructures of development provide a narrative of unsettled state and development ideologies, and the problem of groundwater management reveals governance challenges in the face of unstable, unknown, and invisible material. Anthropological studies of water contribute to knowledge of earth’s diverse humanity, knowledge practices, and ecologies. Researchers propose that water governance might engage with human differences articulated at multiple scales, as well as in understanding water’s material agency and waters as dynamic, especially in an ever-changing climate.

Subjects

  • Applied Anthropology
  • Sociocultural Anthropology

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