Water, Knowledge and Autonomy: High Modernism Meets Community Organization in the Ecuadorian Andes

Water, Knowledge and Autonomy: High Modernism Meets Community Organization in the Ecuadorian Andes
16 May 2018, 5.30pm - 7.30pm
Bedford Room, G37, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU


Water’s capacity to unite and divide has been evident throughout Latin American history, but most clearly on show since the 1980s. Efforts to privatize water supplies and services during structural adjustment and neoliberal reform provoked intense political struggles. Mobilizations against privatization brought together a diverse range of social actors who demanded change in the management of water. Ecuador was one of the few Latin American countries that responded to this demand. Over the last decade a new water regime has emerged in the country which entrusts the management of water to the state and the community, with the private sector performing a minor role. While the regime partially responds to earlier demands to reduce the role of the private sector in the management of water, it has provoked resistance from community water organizations, which have attempted to protect their autonomy in the face of increased state interference and regulation. One dimension of this struggle has been over knowledge. Whereas state agencies have attempted to impose a high modernist project which fetishes scientific knowledge and standardises water management, community organizations have stressed the importance of local knowledge and the diversity of water systems. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in Ecuador since 2015, this paper will explore the tension between these two broad visions of water management, focusing on the intersection between knowledge and autonomy. It will seek to show that knowledge is a fundamental component of autonomous organizing and the line between scientific and local knowledge is blurry, contested and constantly shifting. The paper will conclude by exploring the space open for the coproduction of knowledge and considering whether it offers a possible route out of the crisis.

Convenors: Dr. Mark Thurner, Chair (ILAS-SAS), Professor Emeritus Tristan Platt (St Andrews), Professor Rebecca Earle (Warwick), Dr. Paulo Drinot (UCL), Dr. Bill Sillar (UCL)



Olga Jimenez
020 7862 8871