WaterTalk: Water, Equality and Diversity: an interdisciplinary approach to inter-species relations

Thursday, April 21, 2022 10:00 am - 11:00 am EDT (GMT -04:00)


As part of the Water Institute's WaterTalks lecture series, Veronica Strang, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Durham University, United Kingdom will present: Water, Equality and Diversity: an interdisciplinary approach to inter-species relations.

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Rising concerns about climate change and mass extinctions have underlined the urgent need to protect non-human rights and interests. However, dualistic worldviews continue to define ‘nature’ as a separate domain, and water management remains largely anthropocentric in assuming that rivers are primarily meant to provide ‘ecosystem services’ to humankind. Social scientists, indigenous groups and political activists are challenging this unequal positionality, arguing that sustainable lifeways will only emerge with a paradigmatic shift towards more collective thinking. This lecture considers how societies might achieve more equitable inter-species relations in river catchment areas. Making use of the author’s concept of ‘re-imagined communities’, in which notions of community are extended to non-human species, it asks how we can ensure that all species’ needs are effectively represented in the decision-making processes that direct infrastructural choices and water flows in aquatic ecosystems. This requires us to valorise diverse kinds of local knowledge, as well as expertise from all parts of the academic spectrum. In this model, therefore, principles of equality and diversity underpin ideas about pan-species democracy, as well as enabling innovative interdisciplinary approaches to engaging more sustainably with water.

Speaker bio

Veronica Strang

Veronica Strang is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Durham and a cultural anthropologist who focuses, in particular, on human engagements with water. She has conducted ethnographic research in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, and has previously held posts at the University of Oxford, the University of Wales, and the University of Auckland.

In 2000 Veronica received a Royal Anthropological Institute Fellowship in Urgent Anthropology for a project on Aboriginality in North Queensland. In 2007 she was awarded an international water prize by UNESCO for her work with its International Ecohydrology Programme, and went on to co-lead the UNESCO project exploring Water and Cultural Diversity (2012). More recently she provided the United Nations’ High Level Panel on Water with a report, Valuing the Cultural and Spiritual Dimensions of Water (2017), and this led to her assisting the panel in writing some new Principles for Water (2018) to underpin the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

From 2013-2017 Veronica was the Chair of the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth. In 2019 she was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in recognition of her contribution to Anthropology and her research on water and human-environmental relationships.

     Veronica’s major books include The Meaning of Water (Berg 2004); Gardening the World: agency, identity, and the ownership of water (Berghahn 2009); Ownership and Appropriation (Berg 2010); and Water, Culture and Nature (Reaktion, 2015). She is currently completing a major interdisciplinary project exploring societies’ changing beliefs in water deities over time. This comparative research seeks to illuminate different trajectories in long-term human-environmental relationships. The book arising from this research, Water Beings: from nature worship to the current environmental crisis, will be published by Reaktion Books in early 2023. 

     From 2012-2021 Veronica was the Executive Director of Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study (IAS). Alongside her water-related research, she has written reflexively on interdisciplinarity. Key publications include Leading Interdisciplinary Research: transforming the academic landscape, (The Leadership Foundation 2014), Evaluating Interdisciplinary Research: a practical guide (IAS 2015), and, arising from an IAS experiment in conducting interdisciplinary conversations, From the Lighthouse: interdisciplinary reflections on light (Routledge 2018). Since 2017 she has been a member of UKRI’s Interdisciplinary Advisory Panel (IDAP). More information is available on her website: https://www.veronicastrang.com/  


The University of Waterloo is committed to achieving barrier-free accessibility for persons with disabilities who are visiting, studying or working at Waterloo. If you have questions concerning access or wish to request accommodations for this event, please contact Julie Grant (j26grant@uwaterloo.ca)