Water Infrastructures: The Making and Maintenance of Material and Organisational Connections

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Water has the capacity to infrastructure social worlds. From Wittfogel’s (1957) theory of water management and irrigation infrastructures causing the rise of the state as form of governance to Orlove and Caton’s claim – following Mauss - that water is a ‘total social fact’ (Orlove and Caton 2010), water occupies a central place in the social sciences, and increasingly so in times of climatic and environmental changes, when floods, scarcity, and sea level rise, among other challenges affect societies worldwide.
Anthropological studies of the meaning of water to culture and society, and of how water and social worlds mutually shape each other, whether in the form of rivers, oceans, aquifers, lakes, or glaciers, anthropological studies of waterworlds are characterised by bringing to the fore material and technological practices as well as political and infrastructural arrangements.
This chapter outlines key anthropological studies of water management and distribution, organising these around water flows and the properties of the technologies used to manage and distribute water. An ethnographic case of the ways water infrastructures social and political life in an urban setting in contemporary Peru is presented to discuss how water is simultaneously universal and singular (multiple), and how water infrastructures anthropological theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of the Anthropology of Technology
EditorsMaja Hojer Bruun, Ayo Wahlberg, Rachel Douglas-Jones, Cathrine Hasse, Klaus Hoeyer, Dorthe Brogård Kristensen, Brit Ross Winthereik
Number of pages19
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date25 Mar 2022
ISBN (Print)978-981-16-7083-1, 978-981-16-7086-2
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-16-7084-8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2022.


  • Water
  • Anthropology
  • Infrastructure
  • Technology
  • Peru
  • Materiality
  • Ethnography
  • Theory
  • Method


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