Special issue on water in Feminist Review (open access!!)

The Feminist Review has a great open access issue on water available.


Issue 103 (March 2013)



Rutvica Andrijasevic and Laleh Khalili

Fem Rev 103: 1-4; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.30

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‘If I go in like a cranky sea lion, I come out like a smiling dolphin’: marathon swimming and the unexpected pleasures of being a body in water FREE

Karen Throsby

Fem Rev 103: 5-22; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.23

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feminist subjectivity, watered FREE

Astrida Neimanis

Fem Rev 103: 23-41; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.25

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Narcissus: woman, water and the West FREE

Alexis Wick

Fem Rev 103: 42-57; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.27

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oceanic corpo-graphies, refugee bodies and the making and unmaking of waters FREE

Suvendrini Perera

Fem Rev 103: 58-79; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.26

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kinship flows in Brandy Nālani McDougall’s The Salt-Wind/Ka Makani Pa‘akai  FREE

Michelle Peek

Fem Rev 103: 80-98; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.28

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a gendered critique of transboundary water management FREE

Anton Earle and Susan Bazilli

Fem Rev 103: 99-119; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.24

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Open Space

aquamater: a genealogy of water FREE

Shé Mackenzie Hawke and Leonie Jackson

Fem Rev 103: 120-132; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.29

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ethical waters: reflections on the Healing Walk in the Tar Sands FREE

Rita Wong

Fem Rev 103: 133-139; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.21

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through the eyes of the beholder—in quest of queer approaches to legal writing on water and gender FREE

Vanessa Rüegger

Fem Rev 103: 140-150; doi:10.1057/fr.2012.22

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Nature in the Anthropocene: old vs. new vs. none, or, art

A few interesting pieces have come out recently on what to make of the Anthropocene and, in specific, what to do with “nature.”

Martin Mahoney gives an introduction to the Anthropocene, and then an overview of the way Bruno Latour has been approaching the topic. Latour, as you might expect, would like the old concept of ‘nature’ to fade from view and to be replaced by a networked approach that sees the human-earth relationship as caught up with the institutions of science, religion, and social pathways through which agency is recognized and distributed.

By contrast, Jim Proctor has recently remarked that the Anthropocene is a battle between two ways of counting. One in which humans are a part of “nature” and one in which we are not. In his view, we can only count to two. Count to “one” and you are of the ilk that wants to merge “nature” and “culture” while, if you count to “two” you prefer to keep them distinct. The piece reviews a few new books on the topic – I haven’t read all of them so it is hard to say whether they fit his rendering so tidily.

Finally, the L.A. Review of Books has a piece on the Art of life in the Anthropocene. It is an interesting set of ruminations spanning “geology to biology” and focusing on the recombinant interactions of things that confuse notions that ‘natural’ beauty or even artful mediums are set against something else. An interesting play on notions of going beyond or of ‘overcoming.’

So, all in all, have your Anthropocene as you like it. And, as the contests over how to understand this era of transition emerge, enjoy or disparage the new appropriations (and their corollary dissent from) of old ideas into new understandings.

New book on territory, water and identity in Quebec

Caroline Desbiens has written a number of excellent articles on hydropower, Quebec nationalism and First Nations. And so I’m greatly looking forward to her new book, which is now out:

Power from the north: territory, identify and the culture of hydroelectricity in Quebec

From the publisher’s website:

About the Book 9780774824163

In the 1970s, Hydro-Quebec declared “We Are Hydro-Quebecois.” The publicity campaign slogan symbolized the extent to which hydroelectric development in the North had come to both reflect and fuel French Canada’s aspirations in the South. The slogan helped southerners relate to the province’s northern territory and to accept the exploitation of its resources.

In Power from the North, Caroline Desbiens explores how this culture of hydroelectricity helped shaped the material landscape during the first phase of the James Bay hydroelectric project. She analyzes the cultural forces that contributed to the transformation of the La Grande River into a hydroelectric complex. Policy makers and Quebecers did not, she argues, view those who built the dams as mere workers — they saw them as pioneers in a previously uninhabited landscape now inscribed with the codes of culture and spectacle.

This dynamic book reveals that drawing power from the North involves not only the cultural erasure of Aboriginal homelands but also rewriting the region’s history in the language of identity and territoriality. To reverse this trend, Desbiens calls for a truly sustainable resource management, one in which all actors bring an awareness of their own cultural histories and visions of nature, North, and nation to the negotiating table.

Caroline Desbiens is a professor of geography at Laval University. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Historical Geography of the North.

New articles: bottled water in Britain, the World Bank and ‘normal’ catchment management

Some interesting new articles on water recently appeared.

(1) The first will come as no big surprise to those who follow the saga of bottled water. It rehearses some of the facts, specifically in the British context, noting that the bottled water industry in that country alone produces 350 000 Tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

(2) The second is by Karen Bakker at UBC. It is in press at Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Here are the title and abstract:

Constructing ‘public’ water: the World Bank, urban water supply, and the biopolitics of development

Abstract. This paper presents a historical analysis of the evolution of the World Bank’s policies on urban water supply networks, from 1960 to the late 1980s. The analysis frames urban water supply as an attempt (contested and incomplete) to extend the biopolitical power of developmental states. I argue that the World Bank’s agenda was predicated on a set of contradictions (and an untenable public/private binary) that contributed to the emergence of ‘state failure’ arguments by the late 1980s. This perspective enables critical reflection on the historical origins of the concept of ‘state failure’, and on contemporary debates over urbanization, infrastructure, and development.

(3) The third is by Brian Cook at Melbourne, along with several co-authors. It is in press at Social Studies of Science. Here is the title and abstract.

The persistence of ‘normal’ catchment management despite the participatory turn: exploring the power effects of competing frames of reference

ABSTRACT: Presented as a panacea for the problems of environmental management, ‘participation’ conceals competing frames of meaning. ‘Ladders of participation’ explain insufficiently why public engagement is often limited to consultation, even within so-called higher level partnerships. To explain how participation is shaped to produce more or less symmetric exchanges in processes of deliberation, this article distinguishes between (1) discourses/practices, (2) frames and (3) power effects. This article’s empirical focus is the experience of participatory catchment organisations and their central but under-researched role in integrated catchment management. In addition to an analysis of policy statements and other relevant documents, this article draws on qualitative interview and participant-observation data gathered in an international participatory knowledge exchange that we facilitated among four participatory catchment organisations (and various other agencies). Results suggest that while statements about legislation promise symmetric engagements, the mechanics of legislation frame participation as asymmetric consultation. In their own arenas, participatory catchment organisations deploy participation within a framework of grassroots democracy, but when they engage in partnership with government, participation is reshaped by at least four competing frames: (1) representative democracy, which admits, yet captures, the public’s voice; (2) professionalisation, which can exclude framings that facilitate more symmetric engagement; (3) statutory requirements, which hybridise participatory catchment organisations to deliver government agendas and (4) evidence-based decision-making, which tends to maintain knowledge hierarchies. Nevertheless, participatory catchment organisations proved capable of reflecting on their capture. We thus conclude that the co-production of science and society, and the power effects of framing, must become explicit topics of discussion in processes of environmental policy deliberation for participation to result in more symmetric forms of public engagement.

Planetary boundaries: fact/value divide…no thanks.

Steve Rayner, from Oxford University, has written a guest post on planetary boundaries over at Roger Pielke Jr.’s blog.

The concept of planetary boundaries was introduced in two main papers, here and here, as a way to ascertain how human activities are affecting different earth systems: water, nitrogen cycles, the atmosphere and so on. Here is a visual image.


In an earlier post, which generated a number of responses, Pielke had characterized planetary boundaries as a kind of power grab. The worry here, for Pielke, is that science becomes the arbiter of normative and political legitimacy, when in fact science is just one tool, and a certain kind of tool at that.

In the more recent post, by Steve Rayner, he concludes that:

“The framing of planetary boundaries as being scientifically derived non-negotiable limits, obscures the inherent normativity of deciding how to react to environmental change. Presenting human values as facts of nature is an effective political strategy to shut down debate.”

My problem with this framing is that it presumes that there is a divide between facts and values. But that supposition has frequently been shown false, by Hilary Putnam, Bernard Williams, Quine, Wittgenstein (the list goes on…). So it doesn’t make sense to me to frame the debate in this way. And I do think there is a debate here.

The debate is one that has been going on around the idea of ecological ‘limits’ since the 1970s. And it brings to bear all sorts of issues about how we scale human activities to a certain imagination of Earth systems. Scale, here, is a ratio of time to space. And our imagination of the temporal and spatial effects of human activities are projected against some canvas. Early on it was Gaia, then a static view of a stable earth, and now a view of non-linear and complex systems.

It will be interesting now to follow this debate to see if it unfolds in any new ways. I have my doubts, since it seems positioned on roughly the same axes of similar ones; over in this corner “facts” and weighing in over here “values”.


April 23 Webinar on lessons from the Klamath: When the water dries up

Webinar Date & Time

Tuesday April 23rd, 2013
9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. PT (12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET)
**please note your timezone**

This is the fourth webinar in the POLIS Water Sustainability Project’s 2012/2013 Creating a Blue Dialogue webinar series. View archived webinars from past seasons.

To register email Laura Brandes at communications@polisproject.org

Webinar Summary

Problem-solving ways to adapt to water scarcity is becoming an increasingly real issue, both globally and in North America. However, this problem‐solving is often challenged—and sometimes even halted—when legal entitlements (or “rights”) to water are exerted. Legal entitlements can undermine attempts at progressive water management approaches that, for example, address increased water scarcity due to over-allocation or a changing climate. In this webinar, the guest speakers will discuss how our historic reliance on individual “rights” to water is, in fact, often at odds with the on-the-ground responses of licence holders to water scarcity: when faced with scarcity, licence holders will frequently forego their legal entitlements in favour of negotiated, local solutions in their watershed. Using the Klamath Basin Agreements of 2010 as an example of a recent, complex and comprehensive approach to resolving problems with water scarcity, the speakers will discuss the gap between on-the-ground practice and legal concept in theory.

Guest Speakers

Deborah Curran
Hakai Professor in Environmental Law and Sustainability & Program Director, Environmental Law Centre, University of Victoria Faculty of Law

Glen Spain
Northwest Regional Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations

Pre-Webinar Reading Material

Discussion Paper—When the Water Dries Up: Lessons from the Failure of Water Entitlements in Canada, the U.S. and Australia by Deborah Curran & Oliver M. Brandes

Workshop Proceedings (June 2013)—When the Water Dries Up: Lessons from the Failure of Water Entitlements in Canada, the U.S. and Australia

Associated Press. (2013, April 4). Remove all four dams on the Klamath River, environmental analysis recommendsThe Oregonian.

All documents on the Klamath Dam Removal and Restoration Settlement proposals

Can livestock help solve the carbon problem?

Late last year a short piece came out asking: What if the world’s soil runs out?

The piece is interesting for a number of reasons that are, in many cases, long-standing issues that affect agricultural practices, forestry, over-grazing by livestock and other changes to land cover/use.

An interesting Ted Talk on this issue suggests that putting livestock back on the land is key to stopping desertification. And that it will have the added benefit of creating a massive new sink for carbon. Here it is:

Alberta stunner

The Globe and Mail is reporting an ambitious carbon emissions reduction plan for the Alberta bitumen industry. Very interesting turn of events.

I would like to write a bit more on it but am off today to the American Society for Environmental History annual conference. The program is here. I’m presenting on Aldo Leopold and not a lot has changed since I wrote the abstract, except that I found another reference to pragmatism left out of (if you follow it) an ongoing debate between Bryan Norton and J. Baird Callicott.

Last night’s talk at Acadia University was great. Some good questions and a chance to meet up with David Duke, Alice Cohen and Andrew Biro, who all do some really interesting work.

The limits of your lens: today’s lecture on water values at Acadia

My previously scheduled talk at Acadia University is going ahead today. Here is a snippet of the introduction that targets how we do not see the lens of our own world picture…and what can happen to plans/dreams that are forged before we realize we have one:

Property and the right to water: toward a non-liberal commons

I first met Kyle Mitchell in 2010 at the Right to Water conference in Syracuse and we each contributed a chapter to the book that came from it. After a few conversations, we decided to write a paper together that will be available soon at Review of Radical Political Economics.

I will link to the paper when it is up, which should be any day now.

Here is the title and abstract:

Property and the right to water: toward a non-liberal commons


This paper examines the turn to considerations of property in arguments regarding the commons and the human right to water. It identifies commitments to liberalism in political economy approaches to property and human rights and develops a matrix for identifying non-liberal conceptions of the commons. The latter hold potential for an agonistic politics in which human rights are compatible with ecological sensibilities regarding the dynamics of conflict and cooperation in complex systems.