Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, University of California / Davis

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Davis
Of Water and Life: An Ethnographic Intervention in the Alberta Oil Sands

Through ethnographic fieldwork in Northern Alberta, this research examines the emergent forms and meanings of water among a diversity of actors, human and non-human, enrolled in the effects the Canadian oil sands industry. In particular, I investigate the relations informing First Nation's claims that water is more than what the state calls a natural resource, that it is a sacred, living being "losing its soul" through industrial upgrading processes. As a crucial element for the oil sand upgrading process and an integral entity in ancestral lifeways in Fort Chipewyan, a First Nations community downstream from operations, water is currently a medium through which scientific and non-scientific practices create different domains of articulation for enacting the harmful and/or benign impacts of industry. In this context, water is not a singular, pre-existing entity, its being is performed by diverse actors with various capabilities (Latour 1993, Law 2002). This research first asks: What is water across an array of techno-scientific and ancestral practices? What are its capacities, roles, and potentials, and how is it apprehended? Second, how is water related to the making of life in these heterogeneous practices? My points of entry to answer these questions in the Athabasca delta are threefold. By accompanying Fort Chipewyan hunters and fisherman, independent academic scientists, and government water quality monitoring researchers, I engage these actors as they enact the various capacities of water in its multiple emergences- tracing its roles in the making, refusing, and constraining of particular forms of life, illness and death for human and nonhuman beings. In particular, I ask how First Nation's practices to make life- some of which include themselves in symmetry with other living beings –witness the impacts of industry through their territorial engagements.