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Knowing Groundwater: Embodied Encounters with a Lively Resource

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • F. Cleaver
  • T. Chitata
  • C. de Bont
  • K. Joseph
  • L. Börjeson
  • J. Kemerink-Seyoum
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/01/2023
<mark>Journal</mark>Water Alternatives
Issue number1
Number of pages22
Pages (from-to)171-192
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper is concerned with how water prospectors, well diggers, and irrigation farmers come to know groundwater. Drawing on cases from Tanzania and Zimbabwe, the paper shows that much knowledge is derived from the close encounters with groundwater that occur through hard physical work, mediated by the use of lowcost tools and technologies. In this paper we show how this knowledge is embedded in everyday livelihoods, landscapes, and moral ecological rationalities. Through empirical material of such close encounters with groundwater, we make two interrelated points. Firstly, we draw attention to the importance of embodied forms of knowledge in shaping engagements with groundwater. Frequent close physical interactions with groundwater generate rich and intimate understandings of the changing quality and quantity of water flows. These understandings become primary ways in which people in communities know water, which is lively and sometimes invisible. Secondly, we argue that, though apparently mundane, reliant on low-cost technology, and highly localised, these encounters significantly shape broader socio-natural relationships in emerging groundwater economies. Amongst other examples, our data show groundwater prospectors monitoring the depth of borehole drilling in a shared aquifer in an attempt to ensure equitable access for different users. In concluding the paper, we reflect on the extent to which the knowledge and relationships formed through close physical encounters with groundwater have the potential to shape trajectories of groundwater management.