The coloniality of modern water: Global groundwater extraction in California, Palestine and Peru

Vivian Underhill
Postdoctoral Researcher, Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute, Northeastern University, MA, USA; v.underhill@northeastern.edu

Linnea Beckett
Assistant Adjunct Professor, John R. Lewis College, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, USA; lbeckett@ucsc.edu

Muna Dajani
Senior Research Associate, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK; m.dajani@lancaster.ac.uk

Maria Teresa Oré
Assistant Professor on the Water Resources Master’s Program, in the Social Sciences Department at Pontifical Catholic University in Peru. Visiting Professor on the Water Resources Master’s Program at National Agrarian University, Lima, Peru; teresa.ore@pucp.pe

Sheeva Sabati
Assistant Professor, Doctorate in Educational Leadership, California State University, Sacramento, USA; s.sabati@csus.edu

ABSTRACT: While water scholars have critiqued the social and political work of 'modern water' (Linton, 2010), lineages of critical water scholarship have yet to meaningfully engage with decolonial and Indigenous scholars’ insights on the global architecture of coloniality/modernity as it relates to our understandings of water. We argue that this engagement is necessary because it further elaborates the political work done by modern water: not only propelling modern projects and their associated inequities but, more fundamentally, expanding and normalising global coloniality and racial capitalism as structuring forces that endure even as they transform (Robinson, 1983). Drawing on the interrelated histories, present situations, and possible futures of land and water development in California, Palestine and Peru, we explore how the development and persistence of modern water across these sites likewise illuminates the development and persistence of varying modes of coloniality. We present each country as a 'case' with a focus on what Oré and Rap (2009) call 'critical junctures': that is, political, social, technological, and economic shifts that, together, bring into sharp relief the global structure of colonial/modern water. Ultimately, this paper draws critical water scholarship and decolonial thought into closer conversation to re-place and particularise what has been produced as a universal (and universalising) concept and to highlight the consistent presence of alternatives and waters otherwise.

KEYWORDS: Coloniality, modern water, settler colonialism, California, Peru, Palestine