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Department of Anthropology College of Arts and Sciences
One Discipline, Four Fields

SOCIAL CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY (E200) CONSIDERS WATER

WATER IN E 200 – Spring 2011

waterRecognizing the global crisis in the fundamental life giving resource, Water, the course looks at water issues.

Social cultural anthropology is focusing on Water in specific locations around the globe. The National Geographic Special Issue on Water has provided one source of readings as well as photographs about the various problems people are experiencing with the scarcity or pollution of water. Other readings are provided by our rich faculty resources.

water ceremoniesA significant number of our faculty are currently engaged in the study of water as people use it, whether in abundance or scarcity. Assistant Professor Sonya Atalay delivered a dynamic lecture on the water ceremonies of the Anishinabe, the Midewanikwe. Deeply associated with religious practices, the water ceremonies are conducted by a group of women who have the responsibility to know and maintain the traditions and teachings about water. In addition to their traditional teachings and rituals, the women are concerned with the care of water today. Several years ago they initiated the Mother Earth Water Walk, miles and miles of walking around the Great Lakes and beyond to draw attention to the need to purify the water of pollution. You tube link to Ojibwa Grandmother recounts walk around the Great Lakes.

Professor Nazif Shahrani whose research concerns contemporary Afghanistan, his homeland, presented a comprehensive lecture on the history of Afghanistan as it relates to the present day violence, and the contemporary situation of everyday life for Afghans, including the problems with an adequate water supply. A noted lecturer, Professor Shahrani had just delivered this lecture to officers of the U.S. military before speaking to the class.

Tucker photo Village water project maintenance crewAssociate Professor Catherine Tucker carries out her research in Honduras where she uses an ecological approach to anthropology. As she works in a forest area and studies how the communities of people there manage their water supply, she explained a “Cloud Forest” to the class, as well as the concept of “The Commons,” including The Drama of the Commons. With accompanying photographs on her power point she illustrated how the local people apply their knowledge of resources and their ability to organize and negotiate with each other to collect and distribute the water as it flows down the mountain from the forest. Working in this area, known as Campara, she has identified characteristics that lead to success in cooperative management. Among the most important are trust and talking face to face.

Professor Eduardo Brondizio, Chair of the Department of Anthropology, is internationally known for his ecological research in the Brazilian Amazon. He works with the riverine people who live on the water – at the edge of the forest in the Amazon Estuary. (He recently co-authored an article on water and the commons with Nobel Prize Winner, Elinor Ostrom, in the Annual Review of Environment and Resources.) Working on Marajo Island in the state of Para, Professor Brondizio demonstrated the intrinsic relationship between people, rivers and forests. Rivers are avenues of intense circulation of people, goods, and stories, and where boats– many different kinds of boats – seem like an extension of one’s body as adults and kids alike move to visit their neighbors, to go to school on “school boats,” and to organize their daily lives around the tides. He discovered that rather than “time allocation,” the concept used in industrialized countries, the people who live on the water organize their daily lives around “tide allocation,” the rise and fall of the tides. He also called attention to the challenges of living in a region rich in resources and yet disregarded in terms of services such as health and education.

Professor Rick Wilk brought the topic of water home to the everyday lives of students and other consumers with a lecture on “Bottled Water.” Stunning the class with statistics concerning amount of water used in individual countries, he also discussed contemporary myths associated with bottled water and explained that the USA imports water from Mexico and India and Mexico imports water from the U.S. Tracing the notion of bottled water back to Paracelsus of the 16th century, and later to Johann Jacob Schweppe, he discussed the concepts that operate in marketing such as segmentation to increase sales. Noting that England and France now have water bars with a water somalier to guide you through the various brands of water, he noted the various strategies used to sell water. The label known as Kona Nigari advertises itself with the concept of exotic water from the depths of the earth: claiming that water is brought up from thousands of feet below the ocean, it must then be purified, and then minerals reintroduced – and then sold for $32.00 for a 2 oz. bottle. Fundamentally, bottled water is the sale of water for a profit, but for the history of human societies water has been considered the gift of God and the fundamental source of life, to be shared.