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Attention to Sociotechnical Tinkering with Irrigation Infrastructure as a Way to Rethink Water Governance

Integrated Water Systems and Governance Department, IHE Delft; Westvest 7, 2611 AX, Delft, The Netherlands
Governance and Inclusive Development Group, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 15718, 1001 NE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Department of Land and Water Resources Management, Midlands State University, Bag 9055, Gweru, Zimbabwe
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
SILVANOVOA Consultores S.A.C., Jr. Tarapacá 131, Barranco, Lima 04, Peru
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2019, 11(8), 1670;
Received: 20 June 2019 / Accepted: 29 June 2019 / Published: 12 August 2019
PDF [734 KB, uploaded 12 August 2019]


Inspired by the proposal of political scientists and anthropologists to focus on “practice” as the smallest unit of analysis for understanding politics, as well as the renewed scholarly attention to materiality, this paper sets out to show that detailed ethnographic attention to processes and acts of sociotechnical tinkering provides a useful entry-point for understanding water governance. This is so methodologically, because infrastructural forms of tinkering are very visible, and therefore researchable, manifestations of agency and change in water governance. Attention to sociotechnical tinkering helps shift the basis for understanding water realities from official norms, designs and laws to everyday practices. This in turn allows questioning, rather than assuming, how expertise and agency are exercised and distributed in water governance, thereby also providing useful information for re-thinking water politics. In addition, by explicitly engaging with the contingency and capriciousness of actual water flows, a sociotechnical tinkering approach entails a much-needed re-appreciation of the materiality of water, infrastructure and other matter, a re-appreciation that extends to those who design, construct, operate and use water infrastructure.
Keywords: irrigation; smallholder farmers; water infrastructure; practices; materiality irrigation; smallholder farmers; water infrastructure; practices; materiality
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Kemerink-Seyoum, J.S.; Chitata, T.; Guzmán, C.D.; Novoa-Sanchez, L.M.; Zwarteveen, M.Z. Attention to Sociotechnical Tinkering with Irrigation Infrastructure as a Way to Rethink Water Governance. Water 2019, 11, 1670.

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