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Waterworlds: Anthropology in Fluid Environments

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Volume 3

Ethnography, Theory, Experiment

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Anthropology in Fluid Environments

Edited by Kirsten Hastrup and Frida Hastrup

318 pages, 27 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78238-946-0 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (November 2015)

ISBN  978-1-78533-735-2 $34.95/£27.95 Pb Published (July 2017)

eISBN 978-1-78238-947-7 eBook

Hb Pb   Buy the eBook! $34.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“This collection is a rich quarry of manifold explorations of malleable, multiple, and vital waters in social and cultural life, which are always simultaneously a matter of concern for various political actions, and expressive of their own agentive capacities. Despite – or perhaps because of – the multiplicity of waters and approaches, it can be regarded as an asset to have these contributions combined in one book.” · Anthropos

“…anthropology is not a newcomer to the study of water as an object and agent of social organization and cultural imagining, and the current volume introduces the reader to a good deal of this literature. But it also makes an original contribution by assembling a quantity of ethnographic cases and applying the anthropological perspective to issues of knowledge, management, and morality. The collected ethnographies illustrate, to quote Lévi-Strauss, that water is not only good to drink but good to think.” · Anthropology Review Database

“A superb book, the chapters provide a wide range of approaches, from excellent descriptive ethnography to hard-hitting critiques of development practice. Water’s qualities provide a common theme and inspire groundbreaking theory.” · Marc Brightman, University College London


In one form or another, water participates in the making and unmaking of people’s lives, practices, and stories. Contributors’ detailed ethnographic work analyzes the union and mutual shaping of water and social lives. This volume discusses current ecological disturbances and engages in a world where unbounded relationalities and unsettled frames of orientation mark the lives of all, anthropologists included. Water emerges as a fluid object in more senses than one, challenging anthropologists to foreground the mutable character of their objects of study and to responsibly engage with the generative role of cultural analysis.

Kirsten Hastrup is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. She received an ERC Advanced Grant in 2008, enabling the collaborative research project Waterworlds (2009-2014). Among her publications are three monographs based on her work on long-term natural and social histories in Iceland. Since then she has worked in Greenland and published many edited volumes such as Anthropology and Nature (2014).

Frida Hastrup is Associate Professor of Ethnology at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen. Her publications include the monograph Weathering the World: Recovery in the Wake of the Tsunami in a Tamil Fishing Village (2011). She is leading a research project about natural resources.

Subject: Anthropology (General) Environmental Studies (General)



Introduction: Waterworlds at Large
Kirsten Hastrup and Frida Hastrup

Chapter 1. East Anglian Fenland: Water, the Work of Imagination, and the Creation of Value
Richard D. G. Irvine

Chapter 2. Fluid Entitlements: Constructing and Contesting Water Allocations in Burkina Faso, West Africa
Ben Orlove, Carla Roncoli, and Brian Dowd-Uribe

Chapter 3. Raining in the Andes: Disrupted Seasonal and Hydrological Cycles
Astrid B. Stensrud

Chapter 4. Respect and Passion in a Lagoon in the South Pacific
Cecilie Rubow

Chapter 5. West African Waterworlds: Narratives of Absence versus Narratives of Excess
Mette Fog Olwig and Laura Vang Rasmussen

Chapter 6. To the Lighthouse: Making a Liveable World by the Bay of Bengal
Frida Hastrup

Chapter 7. Enacting Groundwaters in Tarawa, Kiribati: Searching for Facts and Articulating Concerns
Maria Louise Bønnelykke Robertson

Chapter 8. Mapping Urban Waters: Grounds and Figures on an Ethnographic Water Path
Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen

Chapter 9. Water Literacy in the Sahel: Understanding Rain and Ground Water
Anette Reenberg

Chapter 10. Deep Time and Shallow Waters: Configurations of an Irrigation Channel in the Andes
Mattias Borg Rasmussen

Chapter 11. Moral Valves and Fluid Properties: Water Regulation Mechanisms in the Bâdia of Southeastern Mauritania
Christian Vium

Chapter 12. Reflecting Nature: Water Beings in History and Imagination
Veronica Strang

Chapter 13. The North Water: Life on the Ice Edge in the High Arctic
Kirsten Hastrup

Notes on Contributors

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