How Water Makes Us Human

Engagements with the Materiality of Water

Author(s) Luci Attala

Language: English

Genre(s): Philosophy

Series: Materialities in Anthropology and Archaeology

  • April 2019 · 208 pages ·216x138mm

  • · Paperback - 9781786834119
  • · eBook - pdf - 9781786834126
  • · eBook - epub - 9781786834133

About The Book

This book is about how water becomes people – or, put another way, how people and water flow together and shape each other. While the focus of the book is on the relationships held between water and people, it also has a broader message about human relationships with the environment generally – a message that illustrates not only that people are existentially entangled with the material world, but that the materials of the world shape, determine and enable humans to be ‘humans’ in the ways that they are. Offering a selection of anthropological examples from Kenya, Wales and Spain to illustrate how water’s materiality coproductively generates the way people are able to engage with water, this book uses cross-disciplinary perspectives to provide and promote a new analytic – one that encourages ethical, holistic and sustainable relationships with the world around us. This approach challenges representations that ignore, sidestep or are blind to the fleshy materiality of being human, and aims to encourage a re-imagining of the world that acknowledges humanity as intrinsically active-with and part of the fabric of the collection of materials we call planet Earth.


Luci Attala shows how water has shaped the physical, mythic and political lives of three contrasting societies. Instead of seeing water as a resource, she asks what it makes of us. This is essential reading, a new way of understanding the surprising power of what is in the world to shape us.’
-Professor Alan Ereira, UWTSD, author of The Heart of the World (1990)

‘It is important for us to discover new ways of experiencing and speaking of our relationships with Nature. This book is a useful and welcome first step.’
-Professor David Cadman, UWTSD, editor of Speeches and Articles of The Prince of Wales (2014–19)

The author critically challenges the opposition of culture and nature as a product of anthropocentric exceptionalism, providing an ethical lesson regarding the human place in nature that is vital for survival. Water can never be the same for Attala's readers, but must be reconsidered as a generative agent.
- Choice, L. E. Sponsel, emeritus, University of Hawai'i


Part One
Chapter 1: Introduction
The direction and purpose: New Materialities
Materiality/Material Culture/ New Materialities
Why water?
People: bodies and water
Chapter 2: Water Behaviours: A Brief Ethnography of Water
What is water?
First light, then water
Being liquid: physics, classifications, breaking the law and transformation
How can one know water? Liquid behaviours
The importance of movement: molecular sociology
Solvents and solutions
But how does water move? Circles, cycles and snakes
The earth and the air
Water: the shape of life and when water is human
Chapter 3: Resource or Source: How to Approach Water in the Time of Climate Change
Part Two
Chapter 4: Introduction to Part Two
Chapter 5: The Giriama in Kenya: Living with Drought
Water practices: rain, roofs, rivers and water basins
Headcarrying: water shaping gendered bodies
Giriama conceptions of water
Fu ha mwenga: fluidity and identity
Watery identities
Identity solutions: blending place, power and water
MaKaya: home from home
Giriama waters and authenticity: understanding the materiality of water
Chapter 6: Lanjaron, Spain
Slow water: glaciers, ice and snow
The Moorish influence: hydrologers
Invisible waters
Not all waters are equal
Mineral water: healing and destruction
Change: festivities and water
The ritual

Chapter 7: Welsh Water: The Resourcefulness of Water
Establishing Welsh water: then and now
The language of water
Discourses of deluge
Water relationships, powers and control
Memories of floods and flooding
Water and memory: remember Tryweryn
Yma o hyd (Still here)
Chapter 8: Concluding Remarks

About the Author(s)

Author(s): Luci Attala

Luci Attala is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at UWTSD, Senior Fellow HEA, Green Gown Award winner (2015) for her work on sustainability, and was recipient of the UN Gold Star Award (2014) for work in Kenya.

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