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Power in/of/as water: Revisiting the Hydrologic Cycle in the Peruvian Andes

Journal article
Authors Karsten Paerregaard
Published in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Volume 5
Issue 2
Pages 1-11
Publication year 2018
Published at School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology
Pages 1-11
Language en
Keywords water, power, Andes, hydrosocial cycle, total fact
Subject categories Social Anthropology


Water is important not only as a natural resource but also as an object of political empowerment, social meaning, and cultural imagination. To unpack the social nature of water, the article examines it as “a total human‐material fact” which implies enquiring into water's fundamental properties, that is, its transgressive, transmutable, transparent characteristics, and exploring how the different forms of powers they engender impinge on human life. One such power is the power in water (its physical force), another the power of water (its social and political bearings), and a third the power as water (its cultural and imaginary potential). The article argues that regions suffering from chronic water scarcity are particularly pertinent to the study of water's agentive powers. The Peruvian Andes constitutes such a field site. Reviewing regional literature on Andean history and contemporary culture the article explores how water's multiple forces impact Peru's current water crisis and shape Andean people's struggle for social recognition. Moreover, the article employs the notion of the hydrosocial cycle to examine the author's own ethnographic data discussing two cases that in opposite ways illustrate people's perceptions of water and the way the convergence of its agentive powers constitutes a “total fact” in the Andes. It concludes that even though the discussion is focused on the regional context that shapes Andean water struggles, the two cases document something universal about water: its unique quality to represent raw physical power, malleable social and political power, and soft imaginative power at one and the same time.

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