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To create this list of “contraband” practices (forwarded by David Naguib Pellow in our feature of the same name), our contributors responded to the following question: If you were to gift someone one thing (reading/practice/site of engagement) to guide them to environmental justice or a different relationship with water, what would it be?
When I asked the following six artists, theorists, community advocates, organizers, and members to contribute to this issue, it was primarily to share a reading or practice related to water and environmental justice (EJ) in our Primary Sources column. In soliciting these citations, I also asked them to answer a series of questions (which you will find below)…
Water is at the core of sustaining all life on earth, and the people who have inhabited the arid and semi-arid lands of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region throughout the centuries know this very well. Scarcity of water in the region has shaped its history and geopolitics, including into the present day, with climate change and population growth putting more pressure on already scarce water resources (World Bank 2018).
Heraclitus of Ephesus (535 BCE-475 BCE) was the master of paradox: “It rests by changing,” “a thing agrees at variance with itself,” and “the same: living and dead, and the waking and the sleeping, and the young and the old” (Kahn 1979, Fragments LII, LXXVIII, XCIII). Both Plato and Aristotle saw his views as logically incoherent and inconsistent with the law of non-contradiction.
The River Nile has long been a subject of study and veneration. From the earliest times the Nile has presented problems upon which men have speculated. “Two of the most important which have been discussed since the time of Herodotus, the position of the sources of the Nile and the origin of its annual flood, were solved during the last and at the beginning of the present century.”
Questions about water are often implicitly about systems of power. The benefits and impacts of how water is used, distributed, and accessed are unevenly distributed. Water thus becomes a site where the inequalities in society are made visible and contestation arises. The readings listed here offer a sample of some of the ways water is implicated in systems of inequality and work toward social justice.
In December of 2016, I went on the journey of a lifetime to kwaZulu-Natal, South Africa on a faculty-led excursion titled “Summits to Sea” with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Along with nine other students and two faculty members, we traversed across South Africa from the source of the great rivers in the Drakensburg Mountains all the way to their opening in the Indian Ocean. For three weeks, we hiked, swam, and kayaked our way through the various water systems that affect the economy, ecology, and public health in South Africa.
The Mississippi River flows just beyond the buildings on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank where my office is. Most days, as I have done throughout my 16 years here, I walk along the river to the classrooms where I teach. It would be hard to find a person on campus who doesn’t share a nostalgic fondness for the river as we glance at it, drive over it, and jog and bike across it. We are happy to claim the river under the bridges, across the…