Exploring the relationship between water and stone in underground aquifers, in this installment of the “Ways of Water” series, Andrea Ballestero shows how binary models used in water management fail to account for the more fluid realities of natural resources. Using this example, Ballestero questions the distinction often made by systems that extract these resources between that which is “lively” and that which is “inert”—where substances that lie beneath the earth are viewed as sitting there, quietly waiting for governments and corporations to extract them and put them to use, frequently for profit. She proposes that techno-legal devices, such as models used to support resources extraction, can also inspire new questions, and ultimately, a new, and more liberatory, politics of water.
Andrea Ballestero is associate professor of anthropology at Rice University and director of the Ethnography Studio. Since 2002, she has conducted research in Costa Rica, Brazil, and elsewhere studying how water is defined, distributed, and valued. She is currently writing a book that explores cultural imaginaries of the underground in Costa Rica, focusing on how the emergence of aquifers into the public sphere is expanding the social world downwards into subterranean space. Her previous book, A Future History of Water (Duke University Press, 2019), examines the means by which the human right to water is materialized and proposes the notion of a techno-legal device as a site for future-making. She is the coeditor of Experimenting with Ethnography: A Companion to Analysis (with Brit Ross Winthereik; Duke University Press, 2021). Recent articles include “The Anthropology of Water” (Annual Review of Anthropology, 2019), “Touching with Light” (Science, Technology, and Human Values, 2019), and “Learning to Listen to the Underground,” a cowritten experimental audiovisual article that is forthcoming in the journal Sensate.