After reading Geography at Oxford University, Richard Bater earned an ESRC Scholarship to pursue postgraduate study. He commenced this work at Royal Holloway, where he completed a master’s degree that enabled him to explore in greater depth the theory and practice of sustainable development. His master’s research took him to Iceland, where he adopted an ethnographic approach to understand the emergence and operation of several post-crash political reform initiatives. Richard’s experience and understanding garnered through this work affirmed the importance of political institutions, governance, and information for sustainable development, and the integral role of ethnography for enabling novel perspectives to be brought on the practice of politics (political reform), civil society, and the state. The project represented a stepping-stone for his doctorate, in which Richard brought much the same methodological and conceptual infrastructure to bear on how water management reform becomes achieved in Central Asia as a researcher with King’s Water working with Alex Loftus and Naho Mirumachi. Water(s) remains his central interest given its irreducible centrality to living on this planet and given its stubbornness as a high-stakes, plural set of sites through which the politics of making-live and making-die; through which the laborious maintenance of intricate, globe-spanning trajectories of human-non-human processes of worlding become ceaselessly enacted, woven, and worked-out in specific ways. You can hear more from Richard on these issues in an episode of The Ecological.
The research draws on ethnographic approaches in order to explore the practices in and through which ‘modern water’ (Linton, 2010) becomes abstracted, naturalised, rendered governable, and circulates as a political devise. It examines the emergence of historical-geographically particular discourses and technologies of abstraction that underlie prevailing modes of water government. It examines how waters both constitute and are constituted by a multiplicity of agencies in ways that problematises the boundedness of the territorial, institutional, and embodied state normatively defined. The historical-geographical context Central Asia represents the focus of the project, as much as the project takes-up the question of precisely what it is to speak of Central Asia water geopolitics, and the extent to which Soviet sociotechnical regimes of water management continue to inflect upon present day water government, governance, and politics. Water is understood as a quintessential onto-political matter (Mol, 1999) in as much as, in its modern apparently singular rendering, it represents a particular kind of contested matter and set of discourses both at the basis of political contestation and shaped by it; as a matter in and through which geopolitics itself has been and continues to be at stake in extremely consequential ways.
Drawing on political and social theory, historical geography, political ecology, anthropology, and political geography, the project takes water as an entry point for the transdisciplinary situated rethinking of the where, what, and how of – inter alia – the state, global environmental governance, Europeanisation, geopolitics, and development. The project draws on rich empiricism in the empirical-conceptual space of Central Asia water geopolitics to extend engagements with scholars commonly (Bruno Latour), and less commonly (Antonio Gramsci, Hannah Arendt) brought to bear by geographers on questions of the spaces of politics and the political. In particular (following Ekers and Loftus (2009), the research seeks to contribute to efforts by geographers to place Gramsci and Foucault into conversation with each other, and to grapple understandings of the ways in which their theoretical insights may productively be used in parallel to enable richer understandings of government, the political, and space.
Recalling his time with King’s Water, Richard points especially to the King’s Midsummer Water Day event held in summer 2014. “It was a delight to have a small hand in this wonderful transdisciplinary event, enrolling the public in a celebration of water, as well as in conversations about what it is and means.” Beyond that specific memory, Richard adds “I will always remember (and be eternally grateful for) my supervisor’s exceptional intellectual guidance, conversation, and good spirit.”
Richard’s Water Words: