In the contemporary world marked by rising sea-levels, frequent flooding and long-term droughts, the depth of water has become a key environmental and political concern. Thinking with depth as a concept, scholars of environment and infrastructure have studied a variety of sub-surface and extreme environments from aquifers to outer space (Ballestero 2019; Helmreich 2016; Olson and Messeri 2015; Klinger 2018). In the context of water, its material qualities•wetness and dampness in relation to land•has become a generative site from which to theorize about spaces above and below the surface (Steinberg and Peters 2015; Cons 2020). While there has been a lot of emphasis on the material qualities of subsurface environments, these are also important sites where cultural meanings are constituted and cannot be understood outside of the political contestations they are a part of (Anand 2011; Barra 2016; Carse 2012; Vaughn 2017). In keeping with the AAA theme of Truth and Responsibility, this roundtable centers the question of power and examines what forms of politics emerge when the depth of water is constantly shifting and contested. We ask: how might the fluid materiality of water complicate politics as usual and what new socio-ecological relations emerge in these muddled grounds? To live with shifting waters requires further socio-technical and everyday practices that alter depth. What entanglements between environment and infrastructures have emerged in the wake of slow and fast disasters that dramatically shift water depths? What technolegal interventions are used to manage depth and what debates do they inspire? Thinking with depth as laden with power, the panel also invites reflections on what temporalities and histories of water are politically meaningful to social actors. What forms of politics is at stake when the depth of water changes over time or is rapidly altered by human actions? How might we contextualize the depth of water in relation to sedimented histories of colonialism, racial capitalism and industrialization? The roundtable engages with the above questions by approaching water depth as co-constituted alongside histories and categories of social and political difference such as race, caste, and citizenship. We explore: a) how marginalized Dalit groups use geomorphological knowledge about water depth to remake place in coastal South India; b) the politics of climate adaptation infrastructure in coastal Bangladesh; c) how submergence of coastal land brings up new politics around property ownership in coastal Louisiana; d) the convergence of declining river depth with an exclusionary politics of citizenship in river islands (Chars) in Northeast India; e) land reclamation processes and digital visual culture that mediate urban politics in Lagos, Nigeria; and f) dramatic droughts and revival of canal water depth as tied to political identities in Omani borderlands. Overall, the roundtable seeks to build comparative analysis around the politics around water and infrastructure. Panelists reflect diverse disciplinary and methodological approaches ranging from media studies analysis, archival study, ethnography and environmental history.
Next from AAA Annual Meeting 2021
Searching for Our Grandparents: Kinship, Power, and the Uncomfortable Intimacy of Anthropological Knowledge
AAA Annual Meeting 2021
18 November 2021