The Rule of Water: Statecraft, Ecology and Collective Action in South India

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Oxford University Press, 2003 - Nature - 337 pages
This volume uses long-term anthropological fieldwork, oral histories and detailed archival work to explore the changing ecology, political significance and cultural meaning of water in south India. Focusing on the ancient and complex 'tank' irrigation systems of a coastal plains region, thebook develops an account of the interplay between social and political organization and the ecology of water flows. This begins with an account of the centrality of water resources to the organization of a pre-colonial warrior state in which power and the control of resources were decentralized, andgoes on to explore the conflicts and contradictions that emerged within this social system of water use under colonial rule. In its ethnographic chapters, the book describes cultural practices and ritual systems that connect hydrology and power within and between inter-linked villages, and thenexamines contrasting levels of collective action in common property water use across a catchment, and underlying 'cultural ecologies'. The book's historical and social analysis of water as a medium of political and social relations challenges narrow economistic interpretations of common property resources. It argues for a more historically grounded understanding of landscapes, rights and rules or resource use. At the same time thebook indicates the importance of water in the idioms and organizations of power, whether of kings, colonial bureaucrats or development institutions. Through this work the reader not only encounters the intricate technology, ecology and politics of water in south India, but also the colonial, ecological and development visions that have and continue to be the centre of important policy debates on the relationship between state andsociety.

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About the author (2003)

David Mosse, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

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