Where the invisible is present: Ethnographic contributions to studying groundwater

Donnerstag (21. September 2023), 18:15–19:45
HZ 15
I aim to highlight ethnographic contributions to studying groundwater where it is visible, not only ‘on the ground’ but also in multi-sited research. This includes groundwater related knowledge practices, policy-making and cultural/scientific imaginations of the resource based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Recently, groundwater has been part of campaigns that aimed at rendering the resource more visible as it was proclaimed an invisible resource (see, for example UNESCO 2022). While subterranean water within the underground remains invisible to the human eye, I argue that the resource is already visible in many forms that interdisciplinary groundwater research should attend to (and already does to some extent). Groundwater is made visible in specific scientific representations (e.g. modelling of hydro(geo)logical systems or aquifer mapping), in spheres of policy-making (e.g. the EU Water Framework Directive or national legislation, in the way infrastructure is set up to capture and carry the resource, or in the way it is portrayed in cultural and scientific imagery (e.g. as sponges or underground lakes).

Ethnographic methods enjoy increasing popularity in academic fields other than anthropology and ethnology as suitable approaches to study how large-scale phenomena manifest ‘on the ground’ (Nielsen et al. 2019). In the lightning session, I aim to highlight ethnographic contributions to studying groundwater where it is already visible, not only locally or ‘on the ground’ but multi-sited (Marcus 1995). This includes tracing the resource across spatial distances between groundwater springs, (dis‑)connected infrastructure and sites where the resource is managed or related policies are written and transponed; different temporalities as manifested in groundwater travel times, archival documents or within local oral histories; and linguistic or visual tools to grasp and examine norms and social/cultural understandings of the resource. In my presentation I will share insights from my long-term ethnographic research on groundwater knowledge and management practices in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegowina.