Friday, December 5, 2014

Why go to a workshop on "The epistemologies of water in Asia"?

While I have not yet posted the promised post about my final week in Delhi (save for a small poem that doesn't really do that week justice) I will focus on the fantastic opportunities of the future rather than dwell in the now distant past. If you follow this blog, you may know that I am very interested in water. In fact, in my humble opinion water is at the root of many of our world’s problems – and its solutions. There is so much to study and understand about water and I am constantly pursuing new intellectual questions about water sources and their relationship to culture, conflict, politics, science, religion, etc.

That brings me to tell you about an exciting workshop I will be participating in next weekend, 13-14 December, titled “Epistemologies of Water in Asia”. The workshop is organized by Dr. Ravi Baghel, a post-doctoral researcher at Heidelberg University (the hosting institution of the workshop) who is doing some exciting work on the production of Himalayan glaciers as sources of knowledge as part of the project MC 9.1 "Himalayan Glaciers”. The workshop itself is the product of an interdisciplinary research group on “Waterscapes in Transcultural Perspective” coordinated by Marcus Nusser and Jörg Gengnagel. You may wonder what a waterscape is? Steve Caton (Harvard University) and BenOrlove (Columbia University) define it as “the culturally meaningful, sensorially active places in which humans interact with water and with each other.” To an anthropology student interested in water, that is a really fascinating definition.

A photo I took of my last visit to Heidelberg, in November 2012. What better place to discuss water than on the banks of a river?
The aim of this workshop is to “trace the circulation and transformation of environmental knowledge fragments and practices across the boundaries of diverse knowledge systems” in Asia. Essentially, what knowledge systems and practices shape our understanding of and interaction with water? In the diverse region of Asia, water is subject to knowledge systems in a variety of ways, which may be linked to specific places in relation to local cultures and religions, or by functional and symbolic differentiations (for example in the form of expert, political, or sacred knowledge). In my undergraduate dissertation I was interested in displacing the concept of environment in relation to water – what if water is not merely an element of environment but more than that, or different than that in someone else’s eyes? Is water just an element of nature to you? The questions I just asked are the sort of questions posed to understand the epistemological status of water as a mere resource. These questions remind me of one of the ideas raised in both my Anthropology of Development lecture and Anthropology Theory lecture this past week, of how science and religion are perhaps not actually in opposition to each other, but emerge in relation to one another. What do you think about the link between science and religion in reference to water, especially in the context of most Asian societies?

The 19 participants of the workshop come from institutions in the UK, USA, Germany, Israel, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Austria, and Australia, and are a diverse combination of graduate students, post-docs, and early career researchers who all have very exciting ideas. I will be presenting a poster, as will four other participants, and this has felt a bit weird as I have only just begun developing my research question in the past month and a half. However, what I will present aligns quite well with the ideas reflected in the description of the workshop, which “focuses on the nodes through which certain knowledge items, “facts” and practices travel across cultural boundaries, thereby creating a transcultural network of differentially connected meanings.” I essentially want to look at water governance in Kashmir, once again looking at discourse as I did in my undergraduate thesis, but instead of contrasting what I termed analytical and affective discourse, I will contrast materiality and myth as a sort of false dichotomy. There are a number of dichotomies, or supposedly opposing ideas, that I am interested in deconstructing to show how they are actually intimately connected. Some of the contrasting ideas I would like to compare (unless it is too ambitious) are conflict/cooperation, flood/drought, Hinduism/Islam, Pakistan/India, dams/disasters. I know I should probably just focus on one of those – but the point I want to make is that they are all interlinked in mutually constitutive ways.

Anyway, that is enough about what I am (thinking of) doing. The other participants will discuss much more fully developed topics such as the interaction between expert and local knowledge of water, the sacredness of rivers and glaciers, the role of knowledge in water conservation, ethnology of knowledge practitioners, Hydropower between the local and the global, politics of water knowledge, natural hazards and risk reduction in the context of water, and the Anthropocene framing of Himalayan water systems. As I currently feel a bit overwhelmed by the research topic (and region) I have chosen for myself, I really look forward to getting some feedback from my very esteemed fellow participants. Hopefully they will provide the insights I need to put me in the right direction in regards to my intellectual curiosity about water.

I look forward to keeping you updated on how the workshop goes and some of the ideas that came out of it. Below is a list of the participants, including the institution with which they are affiliated and the titles of their research.

·      Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt*
o   Australian National University
o   Beyond the water-land binary: Water/lands of Bengal re-visioning hybridity
·      Leslie Mabon
o   Robert Gordon University, UK
o   ‘If a hundred Becquerels is dangerous, then what does fifty Becquerels mean?’ Understanding water and risk in Japan after the Fukushima nuclear accident
·      Georgie Carroll
o   SOAS, University of London, UK
o   “Water at court, sacred kingship, and ecoaesthetics in Indian court poetry" (Poster)
·      Marielle Velander
o   London School of Economics, UK
o   Myth and Materiality of the Indus: The Discourse of Water Governance in Kashmir (working title)  (Poster)
·      Vera Lazzaretti
o   Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy
o   Whose well of knowledge? Notes on access, use and management of a sacred water spot
·      Ricki Levi
o   Tel-Aviv University, Israel
o   The Philosophy of Water in Rajasthan"
·      Niranjana Ramesh
o   University College London
o   Churning the ocean, sustainably
·      Sabrina Habich
o   University of Tübingen, Germany
o   “Dealing with scarcity In ‘China’s Water Tower’: Local implementation of Central water policies in Yunnan
·      Heather O'Leary
o   McMaster University, Canada
o   Epistemological undercurrents: Delhi’s water crisis and the role of the urban water poor
·      David J.H. Blake
o   Independent researcher, UK
o   “Water flows uphill to power: Hydraulic development discourse in Thailand and its relation to kingship and statemaking
·      Luisa Cortesi
o   Yale University, USA
o   Political epistemologies: categories of governance in water-related knowledge production in North Bihar, India
·        Amelie Huber
o   Bogazici University, Turkey
o   Political Ecologies of (Non-)Conflict over Hydropower Development in the Eastern Himalayas (poster)
·      Vitus Angermeier
o   University of Vienna, Austria
o   Categorization and treatment of water as described in the texts of classical Ayurveda
·      Joe Hill
o   ZEF, University of Bonn, Germany
o   Interventions in farmer managed irrigation systems in the high mountain valleys of Asia
·      Sophie Strauß
o   Martin Luther University, Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
o   Sacred element, scarce resource or tourist site – religious, economic and ecological meanings of two lakes in Northern Bali
·      Aditya Ghosh
o   University of Heidelberg, Germany
o   Everyday disasters - Climate adaptation realities for coastal communities, Case study: Indian Sundarbans
·      Ravi Baghel
o   University of Heidelberg, Germany
o   Organizer
·      Lea Stepan
o   University of Heidelberg, Germany
o   Water as contested element in Bali, Indonesia (poster)
·      Frances Niebuhr
o   University of Heidelberg, Germany
o   Dhari Devi, Goddesss of the stream, a deity at the interface of ecology and disaster

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