Water, technology, and development: Transformations of development technonatures in changing waterscapes

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69 Scopus citations


Delivering safe drinking water is often equated with delivering development in much of the Global South. Yet different arrangements of technologies, waters, and social relations constitute uneven waterscapes and produce different water - society relations across sites and scales. Analyzing the contradictory roles of water-producing technologies and differentiated waters in enabling and challenging processes of development thus becomes important to explaining the political ecologies of development. In order to investigate the technonatural relations of power that constitute development, I look at the ways that different types of waters, water technologies, nature (aquifers, groundwater, arsenic), and power relations coproduce water (in)securities and (un)healthy development subjects, with a case study from waterscapes of the Bengal Delta. Contaminated tubewells have resulted in a drinking water crisis and a reconfiguration of hydro - social relations. Groundwater usage for drinking water purposes was introduced via tubewell technology, creating a public health success story as 'safe' groundwater offered alternatives to the consumption of unsafe surface water sources that had caused high morbidity and mortality rates. But a situation of millions of tubewells producing water with unsafe levels of naturally occurring arsenic has resulted in challenging such development narratives of success, where the tubewells that embodied social status and notions of progress (producing 'good water') came to slowly poison people across the delta (with 'bad water'). I detail the ways that hybrid waters (safe/unsafe/untested and good/bad) and the discourses of water poisoning are produced by water technologies, aquifers, and social relations that are enrolled to support notions of development; in addition, I critically analyze the ways that development goes awry when these technonatural assemblages are unexpectedly altered by the agencies and materialities of variously contaminated waters, differentiated aquifers, and the changing status of water-producing technologies. In contributing to political - ecological analyses of water and technology, I raise questions about the troubled relationship between development and so-called appropriate technologies by bringing attention to the articulations and mutual enrollments of technologies, ecologies, discourses, and subjects in the technonatural processes of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-353
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • Arsenic
  • Development
  • Political ecology
  • Technology
  • Technonature
  • Tubewell
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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