My latest article on water management in Alberta now out

My article, Water management and the procedural turn: norms and transitions in Alberta, is now out in Water Resources Management. I think it is behind a paywall so if you want a copy feel free to email me. I’m also writing up a guest blog post in ordinary (that is, non-academese) language for the Alberta Water Portal that should be done soon.

Here is the abstract:

Water management reforms promoting deliberative, decentralized decision making are often accompanied by procedures designed to accommodate a range of stakeholder perspectives. This paper considers the role of political and ethical norms affecting this ‘procedural turn’ in order to understand the management of transitions in complex socio-technical systems. It examines the discourse and practice of water reforms in Alberta, Canada in order to identify how new procedures were designed alongside changes to management institutions. It finds that the existing social and cultural context is an uneasy fit with procedural norms theorized in deliberative models of democracy. Using examples from the Alberta case, it draws out implications for understanding the procedural turn in water management and the role of norms affecting transitions toward sustainability.


Reflections on “After 400ppm” conference at Rutgers #anthropocene

I had the nice privilege of participating in the recent Rutger’s seminar on the Anthropocene, After 400ppm, this past Thursday and Friday. I thought I would distill a few takeaways from my experience there since I do not often comment on what I think about the on-going engagements with the concept of the Anthropocene. Some will be fairly obvious. All comments welcome.

1. There is no reason to define the Anthropocene now that is not inherently political. We’ll have a much better sense of things later – say in 100 000 years.

2. A common inferential mistake is to assume that because humans are affecting Earth systems that somehow nature does not exist. This is a revisionist interpretation of the idea of nature so that, instead of there being things and processes that arose independent of us (as we would find in “nature’s” etymological roots from the latin – nasci – or greek – phyein) we have some metaphorical device instead. The “stage” is a frequent one where we then talk about nature as a background with humans in the foreground. Then we say this is no longer a tenable divide (or that it is even part of the problem) and voila, nature is gone.  Do ecology without it, and so on. I have my doubts.

3. Key debates and dissent on the “anthropos” side of things – where the worry is that a universalized or culturally opaque vision of the human is smuggled in through the anthropocene – seem to be reforming along the lines of older debates between particulars and universals. The main difference in this case is that the claim is a particular set of cultural actions (capitalism is an increasingly common target on which I will not comment) have altered the conditions for all others because these all depend on the earth and that is precisely what has been altered. I’d suggest we stay attuned here to how one vision of the “earth” is now quickly reclassifying things to forge this connection (think: novel ecosystems, rewilding and so on).

4. There is an inordinate amount of faith being put into a return to “things” or “objects.”

Ian Hacking: how mathematics became possible

Some old tropes will not die: van Dijk on water and economics

Last weekend many people celebrated World Water Day, which has fallen on March 22 since it was instituted in 1993. At UNESCO-IHE an address was given to graduating students by Meine Pieter van Dijk as a retirement speech. It starts out with an odd claim about how water is not a public good, and then proceeds to tell a story about water and economics that is relatively free of any of the many counterpoints that make this issue a thorny one. I post it here below because, at the very least, it should make for an interesting teaching tool.

Note, the video is for the whole ceremony but Dr. van Dijk doesn’t start until after his introduction about an hour and 14 minutes in. UPDATE: I think the video below should now start right at the lecture – thanks to UNESCO-IHE for sending me this new link:

Microbeads: as useless as they sound, worse than you’d think

Every so often a product innovation comes along that is so useless one has to wonder if it isn’t the outcome of a lost bet. The latest is microplastics in soaps. Perhaps you’ve seen the ads for new “microbeads” that get down to your pores and – if you believe the hype – scrub them ever so close with tiny petrochemicals.

There’s no real value added by the tiny particles, but there is a great cost to us because they are clogging up the vital pathways that keep aquatic ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes, healthy.

Several companies are already starting to phase them out. But it should be easy enough to regulate them out of existence since there is no economic argument to keep something that does so very little while creating numerous harms to the environment we depend on.

Of course, in lieu of regulations you can use this app to avoid products with microbeads.

New book: water and post-conflict peacebuilding

SetWidth290-Water-Book4This looks interesting:

From the publisher’s website

Water is a basic human need, and the provision of safe water is thus among the highest priorities during post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding. Water, sanitation, and the associated delivery infrastructure are also critical to economic development and the recovery of livelihoods in the aftermath of war. And despite predictions of “water wars,” shared waters have proved to be the natural resource with the greatest potential for interstate cooperation and local confidence building. Indeed, water management plays a singularly important role in rebuilding trust after conflict and in preventing a return to conflict.


Featuring nineteen case studies and analyses of experiences from twenty- eight countries and territories in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East, and drawing on the experiences of thirty-five researchers and practitioners from around the world, this book creates a framework for understanding how decisions governing water resources in post-conflict settings can facilitate or undermine peacebuilding.The lessons will be of value to practitioners in international development and humanitarian initiatives, policy makers, students, and others interested in post-conflict peacebuilding and the nexus between water management and conflict.

– See more at:

Dipesh Chakrabarty – Between globalization and global warming

Judith Butler: Public assembly and plural action

Kim TallBear: Native American DNA: Tribal belonging and the false promise of genetic science

This book looks very interesting. I had a chance to listen to Kim TallBear last fall and have been  looking forward to this book. Here is the publisher’s description and, below, a talk by the author on a slightly different, though connected topic. Listen to an interview with Kim TallBear talk about the book here.

Kim TallBear’s new book transcends academic disciplines. Bringing together STS, Native American and Indigenous Studies, histories of science and race, ethnography, and cultural studies, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (University of Minnesota Press, 2013) traces a genealogy of “Native American DNA” as an object, an instrument, and an idea. Gripping and important on many levels, TallBear’s book situates the emergence of genetic notions of racial and tribal identity within broader histories and debates over notions of blood, race, and tribe; within a history and ethnography of DNA profiling from the perspective of both DNA-testing companies and the consumers of “genetic genealogy;” and within a study of the business of genetic research as manifest in the “Genographic Project.” TallBear’s book closes by offering specific, concrete ideas for more productively engaging genetic science and native peoples in the future. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the co-production of technoscience and identity in the modern world.

Graca Rocha: What we know about the structure of the universe