The University of Arizona

Sustainability and the politics of calculation: technologies of 'safe water,' subject-making, and domination

Laura Eichelberger


This paper critically examines sustainability as an ideology that gives meaning to processes of domination occurring through the operations of treated water systems in Iñupiaq villages in Alaska's Northwest. The implementation of neoliberal sustainability policies shapes social relations around water, establishes particular forms of 'expert' knowledge, erases experiences of water insecurity, and renders moot local opposition to charging for water. Throughout, treated 'safe water' is signified as a scarce commodity; its production requiring full cost recovery through practices of calculation that discipline Iñupiaq citizens as consumers. This paper provides a case study for understanding some of the processes of domination through which the commodification of water occurs, and how local people who otherwise oppose these processes may nonetheless become drawn into practices of calculation and domination in an attempt to meet state-defined sustainability requirements.

Key words: Sustainability, water insecurity, domination, Alaska Natives

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