Dr. Franz Krause
( Tallinn University)

Towards an amphibious anthropology of delta life: volatility, wetness, rhythms and hydrosociality


This presentation outlines a set of dimensions for the study of human lives in major river deltas, which focus on the particular amphibious predicaments of these lives. These dimensions reflect that river deltas are environments characterised by the incessant alternation of wet and dry, and by ongoing transformations of wet-and-dry places, trajectories, practices and relations. Grounding an anthropology of delta life in the volatility of hydrological flows and social relationships can, on the one hand, help to identify the specific challenges and opportunities that delta inhabitants are facing around the world; on the other hand, this focus also allows for reassessing, in empirically-based ways, the recent critiques of social theory as overly static and rigid.

The core dimensions of an amphibious anthropology of delta life must be:

  • A focus on volatility and creativity;
  • An attention to the shifting affordances of wet, dry and in-between environments;
  • An investigation of the rhythms through which social and ecological life transforms and develops; and
  • An understanding of hydrosocial relations as those relationships between people that are as much about sociality in the classic sense, as about water flows in a material sense.

Developing this study field can build on a range of anthropological, historical and geographical work that has focused on life in floodplains, wetlands and bogs, on rivers and along coasts. The presentation will review some of these contributions and argue that taking their insights further means conceiving the anthropology of deltas as a field that takes hydrosocial relations to heart, and understands their volatile rhythms not as occasional deviations from a constant status quo, but as everyday processes.

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