A Future History of Water

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 14 illustrations Published: June 2019

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Feminist Science Studies

Based on fieldwork among state officials, NGOs, politicians, and activists in Costa Rica and Brazil, A Future History of Water traces the unspectacular work necessary to make water access a human right and a human right something different from a commodity. Andrea Ballestero shows how these ephemeral distinctions are made through four technolegal devices—formula, index, list and pact. She argues that what is at stake in these devices is not the making of a distinct future but what counts as the future in the first place. A Future History of Water is an ethnographically rich and conceptually charged journey into ant-filled water meters, fantastical water taxonomies, promises captured on slips of paper, and statistical maneuvers that dissolve the human of human rights. Ultimately, Ballestero demonstrates what happens when instead of trying to fix its meaning, we make water’s changing form the precondition of our analyses.


"Through the brilliant selection of the devices to exhibit her ideas, the author invites readers to think deeply beyond courts or treaties establishing a human right to water and shows how many other factors also contribute to and shape this." — Gayathri D Naik, LSE Review of Books

"[Ballestero's] insightful analysis convinces the reader that such apparently mundane technical devices are indeed wonderful in their capacities to compose the water worlds of the future." — Veronica Strang, PoLAR

"The book holds profound insights on how the powerful—in this case, those who find that the fate of water rests in their hands—develop a philosophy of history and engineer the ways that their work will be remembered and built upon in the future. Ballestero also pushes fellow ethnographers to reflect on people’s vision not in terms of their effectiveness or how well they map onto one’s own desires. A Future History of Water rather convincingly presents ways to engage with how interlocutors manifest their visions into being in spite of the clouded visibilities of the present." — Kessie Alexandre, Current Anthropology

“Andrea Ballestero masterfully brings analytic complexity to wide-ranging fields while simultaneously showing us that these fields are not as separate as they first seem. If this sounds like ethnographic magic, that's because it is: the magic of a most creative method carefully and brilliantly pursued to provide awareness of scholarly habits of thought, in the process, offering alter-inspiration.” — Marisol de la Cadena, author of Earth Beings: Ecologies of Practice across Andean Worlds

“Andrea Ballestero is one of the most eloquent environmental ethnographers of her generation and one of the most important ethnographers of scientific practice that I have ever encountered. Her writing is beautiful, her theoretical and analytic ability are stunning, and the connections that she makes between her empirical evidence and larger conversations in the social sciences are breathtaking. While there are other anthropologists who write about the kinds of techniques that Ballestero dissects, historicizes, and theorizes, nobody does it while always grounding them in social relations and social reproduction.” — Paige West, author of Dispossession and the Environment: Rhetoric and Inequality in Papua New Guinea


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Andrea Ballestero is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Rice University and Director of The Ethnography Studio.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface  ix
Acknowledgments  xv
Introduction  1
1. Formula  36
2. Index  75
3. List  109
4. Pact  144
Conclusion  185
Notes  201
References  211
Index  225
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

Named to the shortlist for the Juan E. Méndez Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America, co-sponsored by the Duke University Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0389-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0359-5
Publicity material

Funding Information

This title is freely available in an open access edition thanks to generous support from the Fondren Library at Rice University.