In recent decades, freshwater resources essential for human health and livelihoods have come under increasing pressure. Even as demand rises for human and industrial uses, water is less available because of privatization, or increasingly dangerous, as industrial and agricultural activity introduce new forms of pollutants, and climate change upends the predictability of water cycles. In response, new efforts to ensure water quality and access for both human and nonhuman users within a unified environmental stewardship perspective are proliferating. At the same time, scholarly attention to water largely remains siloed inside distinct disciplinary boundaries. 

This working group aims to engage water from within the scholarly borderlands. Trained in the interdisciplinary field of science and technology studies, they approach water as a multiplicity of objects. It is always present, even as it emerges in particular historical and cultural contexts, contingent upon the actions of human and non-human actors alike. However tempting it is to think of water as H20, water does not exist in the abstract; it cannot—in practice—be reduced to a formula. Whether an object of scientific study, aesthetic appreciation, economic use, ecological necessity, or everyday consumption, it is only encountered in, through, and as different kinds of bodies. 

Working alongside scholars from a range of disciplines, this project seeks not only to identify the lacunae inherent in current approaches to knowing water, but also to determine the synergistic possibilities opened by combining the strengths of our disciplinary frames and methodologies. In approaching water as an active object, they aim to open up new pathways and methodologies for understanding and intervention.

Project Chairs


Etienne Benson

Janice and Julian Bers Assistant Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Pennsylvania


Christy Spackman

Hixon-Riggs Early Career Fellow in Science, Technology, and Society, Harvey Mudd College