Hydrologies of Transformation: Capitalism, Hegemony, and the Meanings of Water

April 10, 2018

Janine MacLeod

Tuesday, April 10, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

As climate change takes a thermal sledgehammer to glaciers and icecaps, financial gurus trumpet that “water is the next oil.” Water appears prominently as an object of desire (the vacation by the sea; the waterfront condominium) and as a site of ominous and incontrovertible scarcity. It is a significant contemporary frontier for capital accumulation. It may also turn out to be a powerful medium for social transformation.

Could we make water into an antidote to capitalism? When we are talking about water, we are talking about the substance in and through which all planetary social life unfolds. It is essential not only for the functioning of ecosystems, households, and industrial processes but for individual and collective self-understandings, emotional well-being, and the architectures of imaginative worlds. As such, water serves as a key term in the exercise of hegemony. What might it look like to turn the potent meanings of water against capital? To bring shared waters into the foreground of social movements may be to recall the vital connections between peoples and species, between fragmented aspects of life, and between the living, the dead, and the unborn. Even as processes of capital accumulation systematically diminish and degrade the life-giving capacities of waters, a genuine and widespread recognition that we hold water in common may be profoundly destabilizing for existing structures of power.


Janine MacLeod is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. She is the co-editor (with Astrida Neimanis and Cecilia Chen) of Thinking with Water, a volume of artworks, poems and cultural theory published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2013. Her work has appeared in scholarly collections such as Petrocultures: Oil, Energy, Culture (2017) and Downstream: Reimagining Water (2016)as well as in publications like The Walrus magazine and The Vancouver Observer.