The project runs roughly annual workshop accompanying and supporting the research process. These workshops are intended as small-scale, discussion intensive events for the project team, a few invited guests, and selected people from the University of Cologne and around who work on related issues.
Workshop I: Anthropology of and for River Deltas, 23.-24. August, 2016
What conceptual tools are best suited for approaching delta life? How can anthropological theory help understand the specific predicaments and everyday life of people in major river deltas? This workshop will explore what an anthropology geared at coming to terms with the particular social, hydrological, economic and cultural relations that make up delta life in different parts of the world would look like. It will thereby aim at formulating an anthropology of river deltas – i.e. a set of concepts and frameworks for the study of delta life – as well as an anthropology for river deltas – i.e. an approach that is useful for eliciting and communicating the concerns, hopes, challenges and opportunities of delta inhabitants.
At this workshop, we shall discuss the possible contributions of classic and recent anthropological approaches to the study of delta life. These will include selected aspects of ecological anthropology, multi-species ethnography, the anthropology of infrastructure, Anthropocene discourses, ideas of hydrosociality, and material semiotics, among others. Rather than probing these approaches in the abstract, we will consider their utility and scope in relation to specific ethnographic research projects in river deltas and beyond.
Read the workshop report.
Workshop II: Research methods for volatile lifeworlds in the hydrosocial Anthropocene, 17. - 19- January, 2018
Adjustments and fine-tuning of ethnographic methods are often necessary to better understand contemporary lifeworlds and produce insights that contribute to current debates. Our workshop will explore what methods we might need to study the social, material, cultural and economic volatilities that characterize human lives in the hydrosocial Anthropocene. If change and uncertainty have replaced stability and continuity as the core principles of social life, what ethnographic tools may serve to capture and understand these worlds?
‘Anthropocene’ here refers to the realization that human activities may have global geologic impacts comparable to plate tectonics and solar radiation. ‘Hydrosocial’ points to the recognition that social and hydrologic relations often closely correspond, in that water flows may mirror political and economic power, and human subjectivities may be shaped by the qualities, quantities and timings of water.
Our workshop aims at establishing a conversation about the potentials and limits of old and new field methods in the hydrosocial Anthropocene, and we will discuss the practical and ethical aspects of their application. This may help us to gear our attention to the questions that matter to our interlocutors in the field, and to produce knowledge that speaks to current debates in academia and public discourse.
Read the workshop report
Workshop III: Ethnographic Writing on Volatile Worlds, 27.-29. March, 2019
This workshop dealt with the art of ethnographic writing. We discussed what ethnographic writing means and includes, how we can approach it, and what possibilities and limitations it offers. In particular, we wanted to explore which kinds of ethnographic writing are suitable for our material from the volatile delta worlds, and how this material already influences the type of ethnographic writing.
In order to question and refine our own attempts at ethnographic writing, we sat down with three more experienced ethnographers and discussed their suggestions on writing process, style, genre and techniques. We also shared and discussed some of our recent drafts and learned a lot.
Read the workshop report.
Workshop IV: Stories that matter: exploring (re)presentation and communication of hydrosocial research, 25.-27. September 2019
Formulating the results of scientific research in ways accessible to wider, non-academic audiences is a recurrent challenge for researchers. Publics beyond the university deserve to learn what new insights their tax money has helped to generate. Academics are often keen to share the outcomes of their intensive work with more than a few peers specialized in their field. And a growing number of researchers see their role as active participants of civil society in addition to their academic work. This is particularly the case for research that bears on current societal and political issues, including ways of confronting ongoing environmental, hydrological and climatic changes.
This workshop explores ways of communicating hydrosocial research in anthropology and related disciplines. By hydrosocial, we mean the fields of relations that are simultaneously social and hydrological, which includes questions of drinking water access and wastewater disposal, irrigation and drainage, flood risk and drought, sea-level rise, coastal erosion and salinization, snow reliability and well drilling, as well as a host of other spheres where society and water are shaped by each other. These spheres have always been characterized by fluctuations and surprises, but are currently increasingly volatile in the times of the Anthropocene.
Current public and media accounts of hydrosocial issues tend to focus on a limited number of representations, most of them originating in the abstractions of the natural sciences or journalistic disaster narratives. They include the images of flooded cities, the maps indicating prognoses of sea level rise, the stories of climate refugees, and the graphs of declining reservoir levels. But they systematically fail to convey the lived experiences, strategies, hopes, resiliences and challenges of people around the world that do not fit these narratives and aggregations. These latter stories, however, are precisely what anthropological and related research has been instrumental in revealing through their thick description of different people’s lifeworlds. And upholding the multiplicity and the ‘otherwise’ in particular people’s ways of experiencing and confronting global challenges remains a mainstay in their academic project.
The workshop will showcase, critically discuss and try out different styles, media and formats of representing and disseminating such alternative hydrosocial insights. These will include exhibitions, film, op-ed writing, ethno-graphic novels, literature, and photography. We will focus on ‘stories that matter’ in the sense of experience-near accounts that can inform larger-scale debates, but also in the sense of illustrating how social and material aspects of hydrosocial transformations must be considered together, rather than delegating some dimensions to anthropologists and others to hydrologists. Our format will combine public events (reading, exhibition, film screening) with presentations and panel discussions that elaborate and reflect on these and other forms, media and events.