Latest

Anthropology, STS, and the Politics of Imagination in Navigating Socio-Environmental Change

A map of the Mekong Delta oriented to the left is on a round white table. There are piles of small white squares with different icons organized into rows below the map. Colored markers and pens are also on the table next to and below the map. A person's hands are visible at the bottom left corner, while the bodies of others are also seen standing around the table.

“he climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.” Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2015), p.9. “We are in an imagination battle.” Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017), p.18. In late 2010, members of Dutch and Vietnamese planning delegations, sitting around conference room tables at a fancy hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, began work on what was to become the Mekong Delta Plan. The Dutch consultants depicted four quadrants divided by two axes, with climate change along one and economic growth along the other, which they deemed the two primary drivers of uncertainty facing the Mekong Delta region in the coming decades. The quadrants, they said, represented four “plausible future scenarios,” which could then be used to identify responsible investment and policy decisions in the present, regardless of whichever future were to unfold. This exercise, modeled on a similar set of quadrants used for climate adaptation planning by the Dutch in their own country, was central to the delta management approach being advanced by the Dutch participants. The “scenario planning methodology” is a strategic planning tool used to support policymaking under conditions of deep uncertainty, originally developed by former RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn and later refined by Royal Dutch Shell (Faubion 2019; Samimian-Darash 2021). In other words, it is an exercise in imagining possible futures, used to guide planning meant to enable adaptively navigating among unforeseen events. (read more...)

Recent
Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Confluences of the Domestic

Much of the water that enters homes in metro Guadalajara, Jalisco is toxic. Water from the tap is used to wash dishes and water plants, but for decades it’s been dangerous to drink. In this sonic ethnography, we hear contaminated water hitting plates used for a meal and evaporating from vegetables as a pan heats on a stove. A woman explains which brands of bottled water are safer, more trustworthy; some, she says, are appropriate for drinking, while others should only be used to wash vegetables. We hear bodies of water referred to as both rivers and sewers. (read more...)

Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Aquatic Attractions

Forty years ago, four hippos arrived in Colombia. Drug trafficker Pablo Escobar illegally imported them as part of his project to build an open-door zoo at Hacienda Naples, his enormous farm located in the Magdalena River Basin. Among many other luxuries and eccentricities, the farm housed 1,200 animals. It also included artificial lakes where the aquatic animals lived. After Escobar’s death in 1993, when the Hacienda Napoles was abandoned, most of the animals died due to lack of care, and others were transferred to other zoos. Only the hippos remained, sheltering in the lakes. In Colombia, over 160 hippos inhabit various locations. Some reside in areas formerly part of Hacienda Napoles, while others are dispersed along the Magdalena River. (read more...)

Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Attend the Rains

Each night and day in the industrial port of Ciudad del Carmen (Campeche, Mexico), dozens of Pemex oil platform workers roll their small suitcases across the concrete as they approach the dock to board ships that will take them to offshore platforms for two-week shifts. At any given moment, seventeen thousand people live and work aboard the ships and platforms in aging infrastructure. On land, dozens of logistics workers spend their days observing. They watch the movement of people and the movement of the weather. They then record it and make decisions based on what they note. Constant transport—from workers to provisions and materials—is required to maintain a constant drilling rhythm, and all needs to happen according to schedule, a task made more complicated by the volatile weather conditions that characterize the Gulf of Mexico. (read more...)

Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Water, Energy, and Youth in the Orinoco River, Colombia

July is part of the heavy rainfall season of South America’s northernmost savannas, known since colonial times as the Llanos (Plains/Grasslands) and, more recently, from a biogeographical perspective, as the Colombian-Venezuelan Orinoquia. During the “winter”/rainy months, the abundance of water everywhere makes audible the sounds of boots and motorcycles crossing flooded pastures and streets, thunders, downpours on the predominant zinc roof tiles, migratory birds, and outboard motors of the many boats traveling along tributaries that at another time of the year will almost entirely disappear. Audio recordings taken during the long six months of “summer”/drought, between November and April when no drop falls on the plains, would radically differ. (read more...)

Vivid blues and greens are cut through by blurry rays of light shimmering out from the center, giving the impression of looking down into a watery expanse.

Audio Ethnographies of Water from Latin America: Introduction

Inspired by Feld’s (2015) work on sound, in this collection of essays, we bring five ethnographers from Latin America to think about their research through the sounds of their respective field sites. The exercise we propose here borrows Feld’s concept of ‘acoustemology’ to help frame our approach towards the aural dimensions of a place: Acoustemology conjoins ‘acoustics’ and ‘epistemology’ to theorize sound as a way of knowing. In doing so, it inquires into what is knowable and how it becomes known through sounding and listening. Acoustemology begins with acoustics to ask how the dynamism of sound’s physical energy indexes its social immediacy. It asks how the physicality of sound is so instantly and forcefully present to experience and experiencers, to interpreters and interpretations. (p. 12) (read more...)

A white barn and a large white telescope sit in a grassy field with some trees around and tree-covered mountains in the background.

Lonely Planet Looking for Connection: Citizen Science SETI Research at NASA

NASA’s homepage is as glitzy as you would expect of the U.S. Government’s sexiest administration. Glossy pictures of nebulas, astronauts, and asteroids float across the top of the page and even the ozone hole over Antarctica manages to look like a snack. A quick swipe over to the Citizen Science Page, however, and now the images give enthusiastic, low-res, DIY vibes coupled with pun-filled project titles like “Aurorasaurous” and “Spiritacular.” Each one beckons: anyone with a cellphone or a laptop can do this project. A Jacob’s Ladder of binary stretching into the blurry heavens stops my scroll with its provoking title—Are we alone in the universe? Well golly, I don’t know. Go to Project Website. So I do. (read more...)

Image of a woman digging into a tub, the top of which is covered with ice. The woman uses a stick to dig. Her hair is covered and she wears a grey jacket and brown pants. She is standing on land covered in brown grass, and there are cattle in the background.

Water Scarcity, Hydropolitics, and the Importance of Materiality at the Foothills of the Rocky Mountains

How is growing water scarcity experienced by livestock producers? And to what extent does the materiality of water and the infrastructures on which users rely influence social relations and conflict management? Inspired by eighteen months of ethnographic fieldwork with livestock producers in Wyoming during which water both metaphorically and physically saturated my notebooks and conversations, I suggest that the form of water, either as a river or an aquifer in this case, helps to foster different experiences of waterways and also of social relations between water users. In comparing two different waterways, the Ogallala aquifer and the North Platte River, and the infrastructures on which water users depend, I argue that surface water and irrigation canals visibly highlight interdependent relations whereas groundwater pumping conceals connections. (read more...)