Research project: Imagining Water

As of September 2018, I’m working on a PhD research that revolves around ecological movements, imaginaries of water, and relationships between humans and nonhumans in the diverse contexts of Ecuador and the Netherlands. What is this research about?

Incontrovertibly, water is one of the most omnipresent and vital elements that permeates and co-constitutes all ecological and socio-cultural life, and therewith literally our own bodies. All beings on earth, human and nonhuman, are dependent on its flows, circulations, qualities and quantities for survival. This brings me to wonder: what kind of imagination underlies the way we humans treat water, and thus the ecology? How is water imagined socially and lived by culturally? How do those social imaginaries shape water? And vice versa, how does water, in its material self and with its unique characteristics and flows, shape our styles and tropes of thinking about the world?

Thoughout history and still today, dominant discourses have arguably been picturing water as a ‘commodity’ that must be tamed and controlled, and can be measured and used for any human gain, regardless of the consequences for ecosystems and life on earth in general. Ecological movements increasingly suggest that imagining water only in this instrumental way results in practices that are the root causes of ecological crises. They urge for a break with ‘anthropocentrism’ and perennial economic growth.

In this doctoral research, I am diving into water, dipping into the realm of the imagination, and plunging into the critiques of ecological movements. I aim to investigate how ecological movements’ members imagine water and represent their anti-anthropocentric critiques. I will compare the cases of the Netherlands and Ecuador. Ethnographic ‘immersion’ in these two worlds – using conventional, sensory and audio-visual methods – allows for a thorough understanding of (slightly) similar anti-anthropocentric critiques rooted in very different cultural contexts, histories, and common water discourses.