Review of “The right to water: politics, governance and social struggle”

I think I mentioned a while back my chapter for Farhana Sultana and Alex Loftus’ book, The Right to Water.9781849713597

The book was recently reviewed in the journal Antipode; freely available here as a pdf.

John Agnew, chair of the geography department at UCLA, provided his thoughts on the book. Overall, the treatment of my chapter on ethics and global water governance is positive. In it, I make the beginning arguments  against the intersection of two themes I am now working on.

The first is the unquestioned utilitarianism of global water policy. The second is the intersection of utilitarianism with a specific version of what constitutes a ‘community’ in political liberalism. The version of community is not held by all liberals, and certainly not by those living non-liberal forms of life. But it is given global credence.

At any rate, it is my first cut on that issue, and I will return to the argument in the last chapters of the book I am drafting. But it will be reformulated (hopefully) more precisely.

Off topic, on point: the problem with #smallenfreuden

I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that the latest version of pushing Visa (and other credit card) purchases for small items is surely the worst way to undermine local, independent entrepreneurs. This is described, according to Visa’s latest commercials, through the obtuse word smallenfreuden. Here is how they describe it:


So what is so wrong with using your card to buy small items? Well, in principle, nothing is wrong. But – and this is especially the case if you have one of the rewards cards that accumulate points for flights, hotels, and so on – the merchant you buy from has to give the credit card company a cut of the sales.

This is all well and good if you are a large chain with lots of transactions. But imagine that you are a small, independent business owner with more and more people using their cards for purchases. That hurts your bottom line and the local economy. I say: stop the smallenfreuden trend before it starts. Better yet, ditch your rewards card. Even better, pay cash.

Responding to the Anthropocene: imagining the end of the world with or without us

This video – a lecture by Eduardo Viveriros de Castro – is one in the UC Davis Sawyer Seminar series.

It makes an ambitious attempt to link a lot of recent work on the Anthropocene, from Chakrabarty to Latour’s Gifford Lectures to the Accelerationism Manifesto. As such, it presumes a lot of knowledge in its references to recent academic conversations.

Because of this, the first bits may not interest everybody.  But it is all (eventually) situated against the idea of the “end of the world” as an anthropological question in the end. That part starts around the 40 minutes mark and moves into ways of thinking about nature/humans/and ‘the world’

Click here.

Race, politics and the biosocial being

There has been a lot of controversy over Jason Richwine’s work on race lately (in short, he sought to link IQ and race in his PhD thesis and then, it would seem, in some work on U.S. immigration. If you want the Cole’s notes (that is, the Colbert notes) have a quick watch of Stephen Colbert May 15 show, which is really quite good. View in America here, Canada here, elsewhere, I’m not sure.

At any rate, the controversy is taken on over at the blog Living Anthropologically in a political context, and I’ve put in the first bit of a post from there below. Following that is a lecture from Ian Hacking on the Biosocial Being, which talks about the intersections of biology and socialization, partly in the context of race.

From Living Anthropologically:

Update June 2013: In the light of Jason Richwine and anthropological responses like What Jason Richwine Should Have Heard from his PhD Committee from Elizabeth Chin and How to Not Be Racist from Agustín Fuentes, I’ve re-read the post below written in August 2012. Really, if you just tweak the dates and the references, everything I wrote then applies to the current situation, and is consistent with the comment streams that pop up when people try to confront these issues intelligently.

[original post begins]

The assertion and oft-caricatured mantra that race is a social construction, or the social construction of race, is quite old. Regularly pilloried and attacked, the social construction of race is also defended and celebrated as the backbone of not just scientific understandings of human variation but as a liberal political plank.

As this ritualized game is rehearsed and replayed, it is worth taking stock of an essential but overlooked fact: the social construction of race is a goldmine for conservative political positions. The social construction of race is the gift that keeps on giving, far more helpful for conservative politics than for a progressive-liberal front.

First, there is the unbelievable advantage gained from denouncing and mocking the social construction of race. Second, this denunciation is almost always linked to promoting delusions that the balance of power has shifted to an anti-white bias. Finally, since the social construction of race was never connected to concrete political change, the reality of power imbalances favoring whites is met by naïve hand-wringing, with little understanding of what went so wrong in the post-civil rights era. READ MORE HERE.

Water videos and haphazard blogging

I’m trying to finish up the first part of the new book I am working on, so this blog is likely going to 9780226731131suffer a bit of neglect in the coming weeks. I will try to post here and there, but not with the weekday routine I’ve been trying to keep. The book is coming along – with an unexpected but welcome detour into geology. This is allowing me the excuse I needed to work through Rudwick’s large and wonderful book, Bursting the Limits of Time.

I noticed Michael Campana had a couple of videos up from a recent water conference at the University of Waterloo. I couldn’t attend, but will take the liberty of re-posting the videos here. One is from Tony Allan, who I met when I gave a talk at Kings College London last spring. We ended up riding the bus together after a potluck dinner, and I got to hear his story of how he came up with the term ‘virtual water.’

The other is from Asit K. Biswas, who I haven’t heard speak since the World Water Congress in Brazil a couple years back. His talk holds fast to a faith in management – and in so doing raises some interesting points of debate about how to approach water challenges.

Thousands demand Lone Pine drop its NAFTA lawsuit against Québec’s fracking moratorium

The Canadian province of Quebec has a ban on fracking that is currently being challenged by a company named Lone Pine. Some of the details are available here regarding how the legal suit is situated with respect to an international trade agreement in North America (NAFTA).In response, the Council of Canadians has started a petition, info for which is below, and which is online here. This issue is really coming on line in Canada these days – even though the U.S. is full steam ahead.

Thousands demand Lone Pine drop its NAFTA lawsuit

against Québec’s fracking moratorium

(Ottawa, May 31, 2013) – Two weeks after the launch of a public petition, organizers have received over 3,000 signatures demanding that energy company Lone Pine Resources drop its $250 million NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) lawsuit against Canada for Québec’s moratorium on fracking.

The petition sponsors—the Council of Canadians, the Réseau québécois sur l’Intégration continentale (RQIC), Sierra Club US, FLOW (For Love of Water), Eau Secours! and AmiEs de la Terre—sent three letters to Lone Pine today, each signed by 1,000 people, and will continue to collect signatures until the company agrees to drop the suit.

“People across Canada and the United States are outraged that a company would claim it has a ‘right’ to frack under trade deals like NAFTA, and that we might have to pay Lone Pine Resources not to drill in the St. Lawrence,” says Emma Lui, water campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “There should be no ‘right’ to frack, or to dig a mine, or lay a pipeline. Investment treaties cannot be allowed to override community decisions.”

“Governments must have the flexibility to say ‘no’ to fracking and other environmentally destructive practices without trade rules getting in the way,” said Ilana Solomon, Trade Representative with the Sierra Club. “The fact that a U.S. oil and gas corporation has threatened to bring a trade case against the government of Canada over a law intended to protect the health and well-being of its citizens shows just how backward our trade rules have become.”

In 2011, the Quebec government placed a moratorium on all new drilling permits until a strategic environmental evaluation was completed. When the current Quebec government was elected last year, it extended the moratorium to all exploration and development of shale gas in the province. Last fall, Lone Pine indicated that it planned to challenge Quebec’s fracking moratorium. Instead of going to court, the Calgary-based company is using its incorporation in Delaware to access the investment protection chapter of NAFTA, which is only available to U.S. and Mexican companies, to challenge the Quebec moratorium in front of a paid, largely unaccountable investment tribunal. The company says the Québec moratorium is “arbitrary” and “capricious,” and that it deprives Lone Pine of its right to profit from fracking for natural gas in Québec’s Saint Lawrence Valley.

“Lone Pine must drop its scandalous lawsuit against this legitimate policy of the Quebec government, who has just been listening to its people,” says Pierre-Yves Serinet, coordinator of the Quebec Network on Continental Integration (RQIC). “These provisions of such free trade agreements are direct attacks on the sovereign right of the Quebec government to govern for the welfare of its population. It’s astonishing that the negotiations between Canada and the European Union (CETA) follow the same blueprint. Time has come to end the excessive powers to multinationals,” added the spokesperson for RQIC.

“No trade tribunal should allow a company to sue a State that tries to protect water, which is a common good at the core of the survival and the health of the peoples and the ecosystems. Eau Secours! presses the Quebec government to also change its antiquated law on mining, to improve its water law and its sustainable development regulations to clearly reaffirm this willingness of protection,” declared Martine Châtelain, president of the coalition for a responsible management of water Eau secours!.

“Water in North America is part of a single system, starting with hydrologic cycle, and subject to generational public trust responsibility,” says Jim Olson, Chair and President of FLOW for Water. “A moratorium that exercises this responsibility can hardly be challenged as a regulation: public trust and water have inherent limits.”

The NAFTA dispute and letter-writing campaign is happening as the Parti Québécois introduces legislation that would ban fracking in the St. Lawrence Lowlands for up to five years. The organizations involved in the letter-writing campaign are encouraged by the decision but support a complete Quebec-wide moratorium on fracking for oil and gas.


Emma Lui, Water Campaigner, Council of Canadians, 613-298-8792,

Twitter: @CouncilOfCDNs |