The hydrologic cycle – where are the people?

Jamie Linton’s book, What is water?, provides a critique of the way that the hydrologic cycle is presented as an abstract way of understanding water that rarely, if ever, includes humans. Here is the “hydrologic cycle” as it is presented on the Environment Canada website:


To try and counter the idea that humans somehow exist apart from nature, many theorists now posit something called the “hydrosocial cycle” – which is a term designed to direct us to the fact that water cycles through social spaces: our homes, cities and so on. Further, it helps attune us to the way that our growing impact on the planet makes the Earth a sort of social space as well. Ultimately, there are not any non-social spaces in a human dominated planet.

Anyways, I have my comings and goings with the “hydrosocial cycle” and, as I work on a paper I am presenting this spring, I recalled another way of presenting water without people (UPDATE FEB 16, 2014: You can now read my paper here, which shows Jamie Linton has the history quite wrong. UPDATE 2017: If you read my book, you will see Linton is wrong on virtually every key historical point about America and “modern water”). It was one developed by the World Economic Forum. Take a look at the video below and note that while it begs consideration of the way we value water, in economic terms, there is nothing particularly “social” about it either even though it uses the language of “crisis” to motivate the audience.


  1. Reblogged this on antilandscaper.

  2. Thank you Jeremy, for your ever interesting posts on the topic of water. Water, water everywhere why give it a thought. Yet all life depends on it, you think we give it the same respect we give ourselves. It’s a pleasure to follow your blog

  3. Hi Jeremy
    Thanks for this posts (as well as for your other inspiring thoughts on water etc).
    You might find this panel on water circulation in an upcoming conference interesting
    Best wishes,

    • Franz, this panel you link to looks very interesting indeed! I will be presenting on Leopold at the American Society for Environmental History this April and am glad to see others examining “Round River”. The rest of the line-up also looks very impressive. Thanks for sending this along – I wish I could attend!

  4. Patricia Phumpiu says:

    This is an interesting topic as I am into the IWRM and the absence of land-modified ecosystems and people and I-integration!!. Any writings you have on your account?

  5. Hi Jeremy. First of all thanks for your blog. Dave Groenfeldt told me about it the old-fashioned pre digital way, over coffee, and as a newcomer to water I’m grateful for all it teaches me.
    I’m having trouble with the hydrosocial as well. As a concept that foregrounds interactions–multiple feedback loops that moot the nature/culture distinction and suggest a nonlinear dynamic system moving through time–I appreciate it. But the “cycle” part, and the metaphorical association with the old hydrologic cycle, pull the mental model in the direction of a self-regulating loop, a dynamic equilibrium rather than a nonlinear dynamic that changes over time. In Linton’s book he gets around this by introducing the concept of “hydrolectics,” based on a serious modification of the old dialectic. I can see my way through this and appreciate the contribution, but as a person who communicates mostly with non social scientists, never mind anthros, I’m thinking we need a different rhetoric, though I’m not sure I could do any better at the moment.

    I look forward to reading your paper. And thanks again.

  6. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for your thoughts; I’d be keen to hear what you think of the paper…for some reason I can’t get your comment to show up online, but hopefully I’ll get that sorted out soon!

    Best, Jeremy


  1. […] mentioned my comings and goings with the concept of the hydrosocial cycle before. And I mentioned last week that a new paper of mine would be out soon. It’s here. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: