A matter of relationships – Actor-networks of colonial rule in the Gezira Irrigation System, Sudan

Maurits Ertsen
Water Resources Management, Delft University of Technology, Delft, The Netherlands; m.w.ertsen@tudelft.nl

ABSTRACT: In the first half of the 20th century, colonial rulers, a British firm and Sudanese farmers changed the Gezira Plain in Sudan into a large-scale irrigated cotton scheme. Gezira continues to be in use up to date. Its story shows how the abstract concept 'development' is shaped through the agency of humans and non-humans alike in government offices and muddy fields. Gezira provides a well-suited starting point for moving into the networks of development without any pre-suggested division in terms of levels, contexts or relations. Hierarchies, arenas and institutions do exist. Such power relations are associations between humans and non-humans: relatively stable relations are typically produced when non-human agency is involved, for example through books, roads, and money. The Gezira case shows the potential of actor-network theory in building and understanding of conceptual and empirical links between water, infrastructure and political rule.

KEYWORDS: Actor-network theory, material agency, power, infrastructure, social relations, Gezira scheme, Sudan