Radical reassemblages: The life history of a Nile Delta pumping collective

Edwin Rap*, Chris de Bont, Francois Molle, Alex Bolding, Ahmed Ismail

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

This article investigates how people, technology, and water flows act together in using and transforming infrastructure to improve water access. Analytically, we propose to study collective action over time through the relationships between humans and non-humans as they collaborate to mediate water and other flows. Our case-study lies in Egypt. Over four decades, the Irrigation Improvement Project has introduced various sociotechnical and institutional measures to improve water management in the Nile Delta. By establishing collective pumping infrastructure and Water User Associations, water users were compelled to collaborate to reduce water extraction and over-irrigation. For heuristic purposes, we examine in detail the life history of one pumping collective facing increasing water scarcity. The article presents four life phases of the pumping collective and analyses what drives the assemblage and its transformations. Through time, we understand pumping collectives as heterogeneous and shifting assemblages of human and non-human agents that provide differentiated access to multiple resource flows. We describe the surprising stream of events that unfolds. The pumping collective radically dismantles the standard technological and organizational set-up and replaces it with a more flexible and disaggregated form of irrigation. By tracking this trajectory, the article demonstrates the remarkable agency of a pumping collective in renewing and reassembling itself. On this basis, we argue that the complex entanglement of material objects, human actors, water (and other resource flows) can explain this. Hence, it is important to look beyond the society-nature dichotomy to understand the transformational capacity of collectives.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Oct 2022

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