The Politics of Nature

In the context of water governance, what can be particularly interesting for the study of groundwater is its invisibility and thus certain difficulties to approach, measure, access, and draw the matter. Juxtapose such difficulties with rampant groundwater withdrawal that often proceeds unchecked and thus undocumented, such that there is a sheer sense of contradiction that permeates our apprehension. We take such contradiction as an opening for our investigation on the politics of nature, that is, concerning how and the extent to which science and technology, politics and policy, shape environmental objects in different ways and stabilise them into one form or another. With regard to groundwater, we then seek to proceed the investigation in three themes, as follows:

– Institutionalised science: groundwater as a geological construct, studied through observation of hydrogeologists in action

– Everyday technology: 1) months of participant observation of a number of households that use groundwater for the majority of daily water consumption 2) interviews with a number of groundwater (spring) vendors

– Policy making: a number of interviews with relevant civil servants and politicians who are actively shaping groundwater regulations

The investigation yields a large body of data, although only a small fraction that can be presented in the paper. Field notes and interview transcripts are developed with ethnomethodological craft, that is, a careful minute-to-minute accounting of interaction. Different versions of policy papers, from draft to the final, are collected with regard to the authors partial involvement in some policy discussions. The collected materials from our investigation supplement the vast information from informal discussions.

Our familiarity with those materials give rise to two essential themes that emerge during the course of the investigation: necessity and sustainability. They are everyday dilemma with which the actors shape the object from one form into another, oscillating constantly from necessity to sustainability, while negotiating short-term need and long-term conservation. We conclude that such contradiction is rather a resource to formulate a common ground that can be a platform on which the actors can mediate the concerns and shape a shared ethic.