Writing update: my new book, Normal Water

I’ve updated my research page with a quick blurb on my new book; now tentatively titled Normal Water.

The book itself is coming together nicely, and I anticipate completing it in a few more months. It will present a very different telling of water management – and of the  narrative arcs that are now common place in books about water. These narratives tend to begin with an appeal to the idea that water was once abundant, but has now become scarce and then, through mismanagement or environmental change, become an issue of security.

The book explains these kinds of narratives; their philosophical heritage and what they overlook. Then it offers something entirely different.

I have tried not to publish much on the book so that it doesn’t appear as one where it is just a mash of previous papers. That said, an article will appear next week in the journal Water Alternatives that includes a small part of one chapter. It won’t be possible to decipher the book’s main lines of arguments from it, but the historical work in that piece will provide some insight into how I view the problems with the heuristic devices now at work in many accounts of water management.


Tim Ingold: Thinking through making

Water, the commons and rights

The paper I co-wrote with Kyle Mitchell has now officially come out in the Review of Radical Political Economics. If you want a copy, feel free to email me (contact info is on the “about” page at the bottom).

The paper emerged out of conversations Kyle and I had while we wrote our respective chapters for the book, The human right to water: politics, governance and social struggles, edited by Sultana and Loftus. In general, we were both interested in how human rights are often (and increasingly) taken up or interpreted in terms compatible with property rights. In some cases this is explicit, as in the World Economic Forum’s book on water security.

On the other hand, we were curious as to how appeals to the “commons” variously fit with, or confront, different struggles for and against the articulation of human rights with the broader political economy of property rights. So what we do in this paper is identify the assumptions of political economy and certain representations of the ‘commons’ and show how we can parse these out from versions of the ‘commons’ that are used to confront linkages between human and property rights.

To do so, we draw on Charles Taylor’s great article “Cross-purposes” and and how different moral goods align (or not) with different commitments to political advocacy.

All responses are very welcome.

Water 4.0: New book by David Sedlak

526d4ff5c3c7d88264ab6f1c6bbebe2fA great new book is coming out this year from Yale University Press. Here is the book’s website, a description of the book and a keynote lecture by the author.

“Turn on the faucet, and water pours out. Pull out the drain plug, and the dirty water disappears. Most of us give little thought to the hidden systems that bring us water and take it away when we’re done with it. But these underappreciated marvels of engineering face an array of challenges that cannot be solved without a fundamental change to our relationship with water, David Sedlak explains in this enlightening book. To make informed decisions about the future, we need to understand the three revolutions in urban water systems that have occurred over the past 2,500 years and the technologies that will remake the system.   The author starts by describing Water 1.0, the early Roman aqueducts, fountains, and sewers that made dense urban living feasible. He then details the development of drinking water and sewage treatment systems—the second and third revolutions in urban water. He offers an insider’s look at current systems that rely on reservoirs, underground pipe networks, treatment plants, and storm sewers to provide water that is safe to drink, before addressing how these water systems will have to be reinvented. For everyone who cares about reliable, clean, abundant water, this book is essential reading.”

Political utopianism in the Anthropocene: Clive Hamilton

Evelyn Fox Keller: Genes, genomics and human nature

Something light as we head into the weekend…

Duke’s Andrew Janiak on: Isaac Newton, Philosopher

Science as culture special issues

Taylor and Francis has all (or most) of their special issues on Science as Culture listed here. Thanks to MK for the link.

After 400ppm: science, politics and social natures in the Anthropocene

after-400-ppm-poster2I’m looking forward to the After 400ppm conference later this spring (the call for papers was here among other places). The conference website is being developed here. Sarah Whatmore will be the keynote speaker.

My contribution will be from some work that won’t make the final cut of the book that I’m working on and which should be finished (the first full draft, that is) in late May. Here is the abstract for my paper:

The Cosmos Club: 19th century earth-making and the anticipation of the Anthropocene

Although a nascent concept, precursors to the Anthropocene have already been identified in a relatively unchecked narrative that runs from George Perkins Marsh, through figures such as Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, Henri Bergson, and Vladimir Vernadsky (see Steffen et al., 2011). In this narrative, earth system science and environmental policy begin intersecting mid-20th century through the work of NASA and the Club of Rome. In this paper I offer an alternate historical basis for connecting considerations of geologic agency, planetary evolution and social policy. It emerges out of historically over-looked members of Washington’s Cosmos Club in the late 19th century. These individuals formed America’s intellectual vanguard while also holding key bureaucratic positions in the USGS, the Smithsonian and in the survey and settlement of North America. A central notion that each was committed to was the idea of “earth-making” – of giving an account of planetary evolution without a divide between humans and nature. To accomplish this, they developed a novel account of geologic agency that included humans as one part of an evolutionary plentitude of geologic agents. Through this paper’s historical account, I show how the idea of geologic agency comes packaged with certain ethnocentric assumptions that ultimately find their way into key concepts – such as the idea that the world is a reservoir of natural resources – that anticipate the intersection of environmental policy and emerging understandings of earth systems several decades prior to those in the current narrative.


Will Steffen, et al., “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A 369 (2011): 842-67.


Sloterdijk interview in the LA Review of Books

Progressive Geographies

Sloterdijk is interviewed in the LA Review of Books, mainly on Spheres I: Bubbles. Thanks to ANTHEM for the link. The interview was conducted by a reading group at UC Irvine, where Sloterdijk later gave the Wellek Library lectures. I don’t know what the theme of those lectures was, but the interview mentions his current project of “on the relationship between the “miraculous,” with its theological connotations, to the “wondrous,” with its connotations of pure aesthetics”.

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