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Andrea Ballestero: A Future History of Water, or, How to Wonder with Techno-Legal Devices?

November 16, 2021 @ 2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

A Future History of Water, or, How to Wonder With Techno-Legal Devices? 


How do people commit to intervening in the future while acknowledging its unruliness? I propose the figure of the techno-legal device as a lively space where we can learn how people constantly negotiate the form of the worlds they want to bring about. I will focus on one device: a list of water types produced by Costa Rican congressional representatives during the discussion of a constitutional reform to recognize water as a public good and a human right. During the fifteen years the discussion lasted, Libertarian representatives made a series of seemingly outrageous claims: they theatrically declared that if water were a human right, ice cubes would become state property; they claimed that since all human bodies are 70% water, the reform would turn 70% of human bodies into state property. Session after session, they produced a typology of state-owned waters that challenged any definition of what water is, of where its borders sit, and of what ideas such as public goods and human rights entail. When analyzed as a techno-legal device, the Libertarian list allows people to establish relations with facts, matter, and politics. I will argue that in this capacity, a taxonomic list helps us see how a theatrical rejection of the human right to water is in fact the making of a future history—a way of bringing about a series of preconditions that can only be recognized as meaningful in the yet to come.


Andrea Ballestero is Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at USC and Director of the Ethnography Studio  https://ethnographystudio.org/. She is the author of A Future History of Water (Duke University Press, 2019) where she examines the means by which the human right to water is materialized and proposes the notion of a techno-legal device as a site for future-making. She is also the co-editor of Experimenting with Ethnography: A Companion to Analysis (Duke University Press 2021), a collection of experimental protocols that expand the meaning of ethnographic analysis. She is currently writing a book that explores cultural imaginaries of the underground in Costa Rica, focusing on how the emergence of aquifers into the public sphere (via hydrogeology and discussions over private property) is expanding the social world downwards into subterranean space.  Recent articles include The Anthropology of Water (Annual Review of Anthropology 2019), Touching with Light (Science, Technology and Human Values, 2019), and Learning to Listen to the Underground a co-written experimental audiovisual piece published in the journal Sensate. Her works can be found at https://andreaballestero.com/

Science, Technology, and Human Rights Fall Speaker Series

How have science and technology  historically shaped understandings of human rights? How have human rights frameworks shaped the creation and use of scientific and technological capabilities? This speaker series explores the relationship of science and technology to ideas about human rights over time, including how science and technology have been mobilized historically in the defense of human rights and to assist in the pursuit of truth and justice after atrocity. The series is tied to the fall semester course STS.458 Science, Technology, and Human Rights.

All talks are open to the public.

MIT STS Faculty and Moderator:

Prof. Eden Medina, Associate Professor of Science, Technology, and Society (STS)

PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED: https://mit.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__Krv2JkATCyDOAOuhKxpOA


November 16, 2021
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm

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