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Christiana Zenner, Associate Professor of Theology, Science, and Ethics, Fordham University

 

Discussant:

Andrea Ballestero, Associate Professor of Anthropology, USC

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When Octavia Butler (1947-2006) set her novel Parable of the Sower (1993) in the Los Angeles area of 2024, she referred to her method as historo-futurism, a mode of speculating on the patterns that the pace of the present would impose on the future, with fresh water scarcity standing as a stark indicator of eco-social degradation. As we approach the calendar year 2024 and fresh water scarcity continues to amplify locally and globally, there is no better time to revisit the question of the hydrosocial values, political economics, and scientific paradigms guiding dominant societies' understandings of fresh waters -- especially in an era of planetary-scale scientific pronouncements on concepts like "planetary boundaries" and the "Anthropocene," as well as the financialization of fresh water resources and the techno-economic promises of emergent industries. Fresh waters function as vectors of climate change, arbiters of social well being; they are the target of property grabs and political economic arrangements; and they are increasingly measurable as quantifiable flows subject to steady drawdown, valuation, and technological innovation (including but not limited to desalination, metering, and so forth). But these purportedly authoritative paradigms are worth engaging critically: first, because they often replicate a particular but not universalizable euro-american colonial paradigm in both the dominant sciences and in political economic assumptions; second, because "the planetary" is always only experienced through contextual particularity; and third, because the predominance of scientific, technological, and political-economic accounts of fresh waters leave out a great deal of cultural and human knowledge that could help to chart better baselines and justice-oriented ethical ways forward as fresh waters continue to mediate human and ecosystemic survival in an era of anthropogenic change. Demonstrating both the power and the peril of dominant approaches in water-related earth science, global techno-economic practice, and governance, this lecture also engages viable alternative futurisms and anti-colonial pathways drawn from early speculative fiction writers like Octavia Butler, ecofeminist philosophers, and Indigenous water justice advocates while identifying precepts of an anti-colonial, feminist account of waters in the so-called Anthropocene. 

 

This event is co-sponsored by the USC Dornsife Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life, the USC Wrigley Institute for Environment and Sustainability, and the Berggruen Institute.

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  • Kamya Sud
  • Joe Arvai

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