Transformation as practice: Learning from everyday dealings with groundwater

Carolina Domínguez-Guzmán
University of Amsterdam (UvA), Amsterdam, the Netherlands c.dominguezguzman@uva.nl

Margreet Zwarteveen
IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, Water Governance Department, Delft, the Netherlands; University of Amsterdam (UvA), Amsterdam, the Netherlands; m.zwarteveen@un-ihe.org

Marcel Kuper
University of Montpellier, Cirad, UMR G-Eau, Montpellier, France; kuper@cirad.fr

ABSTRACT: This article provides a theoretical introduction to the Special Issue and briefly presents the various contributions. It starts with a general plea for inserting the analysis of groundwater and its gradual depletion into a broader critical analysis of 'development'; it does so in order to trace how particular forms of groundwater use and management are intrinsic to distinct – gendered and racialised – processes of differentiation and exploitation such as settler colonialism and capitalism. We go on to argue, however, that too much insistence on explaining empirical realities in terms of such structural processes has its limitations. It risks strengthening their overwhelming power and reconfirming the oppression and marginalisation that they create. We therefore suggest that methodological and ethnographic attention to practices may help identify less predictable and sometimes surprising trajectories of change. Our foregrounding of practices implies treating terms such as transformation and sustainability as fluid, the discussion of which needs to be anchored in the situated and always-specific practical work of using, accessing, caring for, sharing and knowing groundwater. Theoretical insights about how the world is patterned or structured then serve not as the framework in which to insert empirical findings, but as entry points for further analysis, reflection and conversation, fuelling forms of experimentation and joint learning about how to think and do transformations to groundwater sustainability.

KEYWORDS: Transformations, caring, groundwater governance, ethnography of practice