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Speaker Series: Andrea Ballestero, Anthropology, Rice University

  • When: October 21, 2020, 12 pm
  • Where: Zoom: To register, contact Sophie Kofman at

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A future history of water, or, how to wonder with techno-legal devices? 

"How do people commit to intervening in the future while acknowledging its unruliness? I propose the figure of the techno-legal device as a lively space where we can learn how people constantly negotiate the form of the worlds they want to bring about. In this talk, I will focus on one device: a list of water types produced by Costa Rican congressional representatives during the discussion of a constitutional reform to recognize water as a public good and a human right. During the fifteen years it lasted, Libertarian representatives made a series of seemingly outrageous claims: they theatrically declared that if the reform passed, ice cubes would become state property; they claimed that since all human bodies are 70% water, the reform would automatically turn 70% of their bodies into state property. Session after session, they produced a typology of state-owned waters that challenged any definition of what water is, of where its borders sit, and of what liberal ideas such as public goods entail. In this paper I explore their list as a techno-legal device to ask how people establish relations with facts, matter, and politics. I will argue that when taken as a techno-legal device, the list helps us see the making of a future history of water, a series of preconditions that can only be recognized as meaningful in the yet to come."   

Photo and bio courtesy of Andrea Ballestero

Andrea Ballestero is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Rice University and she is also the founder and director of the Ethnography Studio. Her background includes a law degree, training in Natural Resource Policy, and a PhD in anthropology. She has more than fifteen years of experience researching how societies define, distribute, and value water. She is interested in how technical knowledge embodies ethical and political values. Her recent book, A future History of Water (Duke, 2019), examines the daily work of implementing the human right to water in Costa Rica and in Northeast Brazil. This book is open access and available for download for free on her website. She is currently researching cultural imaginaries of the underground in Costa Rica, particularly of aquifers, to understand how the social world is expanding downwards, how people attempt to establish new forms of responsibility towards inaccessible places, and how property is changing in the 21st century. Her publications can be found at

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