Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
This paper weaves together an analysis of contemporary political forms of water enclosure with a critique of techno-legal projects of frontier capitalism in southwest China. Typically, green capitalism manicures the temporal rhythms of water to facilitate the generation of value and the accumulation of capital. However, drawing on the ongoing rescaling of China’s water sector, this paper suggests that such temporal twitches to water flows are exacerbated by the simultaneous application of older forms of coercion and violence, which are rendered invisible by the official language of sustainability and environmental transition. Thus, the metrological reduction of water as ‘throughput’ is joining a politics of dispossession of rural ecologies with one of criminalisation of long-standing civic engagements to water.
Chinese authoritarian chrono-politics materialises in state institutions' actively rescheduling, sanctioning and divesting out of rural water uses. These technologies of sustainability target local environmental practices with the conviction that they are inimical to an imaginary future where sustainable development will have finally overcome all its internal contradictions. Rescheduling, sanctioning and divesting out of rural water uses means that old infrastructures are reduced to rubbles, common waters enclosed, ecological rhythms accelerated, and the time of water flows diverted and further virtualised as capital. Intensive time – time that passes only in specific places – is revealed to be integral to Chinese visions of national betterment and renewal. Thereby, the tragedy of the water commons is made into a parody as real sustainability is moved into the future and away from rural habitats.