Assessing the fluvial Anthropocene.
Agency, materiality and culture in Eastern European hydroscapes
International Conference, May 2–4, 2024 (GWZO Leipzig)
The world’s waters act as a powerful historical force in their own right, Nicholas B. Breyfogle and Mark Sokolsky recently stressed in their Readings in Water History (2020). This focus on materiality that puts the predominance of human agency into question has become a strong interest in historiography, with a variety of related transdisciplinary paradigms on offer like nature-culture, envirotechnical systems, or socio-natural sites. They creatively frame societal changes and anthropogenic constants through time, in rare cases even offering a longue-durée perspective that leads from antiquity to the Anthropocene. In this supposed ‘age of humans’, whose agency is now seen as a geophysical force, water has become ever more coveted as a commodity with conflicts ensuing over its accessibility all across the globe. Here, much is still to be learned about water management in a diachronic approach that contrasts the ideas and ideals of empires, nation states and international institutions through (proto-)capitalist and socialist regimes in a world connecting.
With regard to Central Eastern, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe, the underlying legal, geopolitical, economic and ecological entanglements have caught the attention of scholars. This is also at the heart of the project Contested Waterway. Governance and Ecology on the Lower Danube, 1800–2018, which is the main sponsor of this conference. As discussed by Jens Ivo Engels and Julia Obertreis – among others – already in 2007, the “unique dual character as a resource and (transportation-)infrastructure” of water is a prerequisite to exercising power and control over local populations, curtailing their explicit agency. While such processes do not happen in a sociopolitical vacuum, it is the concrete materiality of water that has shaped fundamental ideologies of rule to a large degree. High-modernist engineering-cultures have since nurtured dreams of total control over space and nature, creating problematic path dependencies in the process. Such obtruding acts of spatialization do not only affect everyday practices of labor but also of leisure in shaping ways protagonists perceive their environment. By enacting shifts in aquatic regimes through specific “technologies of fixing” (Bhattacharyya, 2018) that assert claims to power through property rights and infrastructure, humans set the stage for a circular relationship in acting upon and reacting to the environment.
Thus, the conference invites scholars from all disciplines to focus on human and non-human agency within cultural practices as they are determined by the materiality of water in a planetary age.
Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Socio-political implications of hydro-infrastructures
- Transboundary flows of water and their management
- Gendered practices in power relations through time
- Urban-rural dichotomies in water usage and leisure
- Longue-durée evolutions and short-term catastrophes
- Eco-economic tensions between exploitation and restoration
Please send an abstract of about 300 words along with a short bio-note to firstname.lastname@example.org until January 31, 2024. Notifications of acceptance should be expected by mid-February.