An international conference on global water systems and cultures of spatiality in India

The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, in association with Venugopal Maddipati (School of Design, Ambedkar University, Delhi) and Sugata Ray (History of Art Department, University of California, Berkeley)

The reciprocal relationship between global water systems and cultures of spatiality in constituting historical events across time and space has received little attention in ecohistories of India. Spaces of Water: New Paradigms in Ecocritical Enquiry is an attempt to address this opacity in environmental studies by bringing together leading scholars, artists, architects, and activists from India, Europe, and the United States to articulate new forms of ecocritical thinking that reads the cultural as both determining and being determined by the environmental. How does the environment shape, and is shaped by, the ontological domain of affective spatialities? Over two days, speakers will rethink the intersections between water systems and the phenomenology of spatial cultures in early modern, colonial, and contemporary India to explore the topographies of the concept-term waterscape in the wake of environmental histories and ecocriticism more broadly.

It is, indeed, one thing to historicize the way in which water has been contained within tangible spatial volumes. It can be quite another thing to consider the manner in which water contains and is contained by the affective. If the former requires a close analysis of architectural and spatial practices that serve to control, divert, or manage water as a natural resource, the latter necessitates an exploration of the manner in which immaterial but phenomenally conceivable essences imbue water with diverse forms of value. How, then, might we engage with the liquescence of water as simultaneously constituting a ground for living, a demonstrative setting for articulations of sovereignty, as global sites of circulation, and the transmitter of sacrality? How might art history, geography, history, environmental studies, and art and architecture practice collaboratively engender an expanded field of ecocritical enquiry? What kind of trans-disciplinary approaches might such a move entail? Demarcating horizons, systems,thresholds, memory, and processes as thematic frames, Spaces of Water addresses the ways in which technological, representational, and aesthetic acts of envisioning imaginative geographies and flow destabilizes water as only a commodifiable natural resource and a product and effect of environmental governance.

Some research abstracts

  1. Catherine B. Asher (University of Minnesota), Water: Its Meanings and Powers in the Indian Sufi Tradition
  2. Hannah Baader (Kunsthistorisches Institut, Florenz; Forum Transregionale Studien, Berlin), Oceanic Waters, Spatial Orders: Architecture and the Sea
  3. Dipti Khera (New York University), Looking at Lakes, Looking from Lake-Palaces: Worlds of Pleasure and Power in Eighteenth Century Udaipur
  4. Venugopal Maddipati (Ambedkar University), On the Simultaneity of Fresh Water: A Brief History of Continuity in Colonial Geology in Central India (1854-1855)
  5. Rila Mukherjee (University of Hyderabad; Institut de Chandernagor), Water Histories: Oceans into Rivers
  6. Suhas Paranjape (Society for Promoting Participative Ecosystem Management), Water as Nature: Resisting Capitalisation
  7. Sugata Ray (University of California, Berkeley), Water is a Limited Commodity: The Case of the Vishram Ghat, Mathura
  8. Gopa Samanta and Malay Ganguli (The University of Burdwan), Governing Water in Cities: A Critical Look into the Existing Paradigm
  9. Tamara I. Sears (Yale University), Following Rivers ‘Rich in Honey’: Architecture and Water in the central Indian Frontier 
  10. James L. Wescoat Jr. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), From Nallah to Nadi, Sewer to Stream: Urban Waterscape Inquiry in India and the U.S.