Water Sustainability: Anthropological Approaches and Prospects

Posted: 18 Oct 2010

See all articles by Ben Orlove

Ben Orlove

Columbia University

Steven C. Caton

Harvard University - Department of Anthropology

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Date Written: October 2010


Water has become an urgent theme in anthropology as the worldwide need to provide adequate supplies of clean water to all people becomes more challenging. Anthropologists contribute by seeing water not only as a resource, but also as a substance that connects many realms of social life. They trace the different forms of valuing water, examine the often unequal distribution of water, explore the rules and institutions that govern water use and shape water politics, and study the multiple, often conflicting knowledge systems through which actors understand water. They offer ethnographic insights into key water sites—watersheds, water regimes, and waterscapes—found in all settings, though with widely varying characteristics. Anthropologists provide a critical examination of a concept called integrated water resource management (IWRM), which has become hegemonic in the global discourse of sustainable development.

Suggested Citation

Orlove, Ben and Caton, Steven C., Water Sustainability: Anthropological Approaches and Prospects (October 2010). Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 39, pp. 401-415, 2010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1692553 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.anthro.012809.105045

Ben Orlove (Contact Author)

Columbia University ( email )

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Steven C. Caton

Harvard University - Department of Anthropology ( email )

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Cambridge, MA 02138
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