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Water, infrastructure and political rule: Introduction to the Special Issue

Julia Obertreis
Department of History, Friedrich-Alexander Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany; julia.obertreis@fau.de

Timothy Moss
Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Relations (IRI THESys), Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany; timothy.moss@hu-berlin.de

Peter P. Mollinga
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, UK; pm35@soas.ac.uk

Christine Bichsel
Geography Unit, Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland; christine.bichsel@unifr.ch

ABSTRACT: This introductory article sets the scene for this special issue on water, infrastructure and political rule. It makes the case for revisiting the complex relationships between these three dimensions which have fascinated scholars since Wittfogel’s pioneering – if much criticised – work on causal links between large-scale irrigation systems and autocratic leadership. Scholarship on water, on infrastructure, as well as on political rule has made huge advances since Wittfogel’s days, requiring a wholesome reappraisal of their triangular relationship. In this article, we review the relevant advances in scientific knowledge and epistemological approaches on each dimension. We subsequently summarise the different ways in which each of the following papers takes up and interrogates the relationship between water, infrastructure and political rule prior to the final paper which synthesises the principal findings emerging from the special issue.

KEYWORDS: Water, infrastructure, rule, Oriental despotism, Wittfogel