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Who Speaks For Water in Times of Crisis? Iranian Perspective on Co-production of Engineering and Governance

Sat, September 1, 4:00 to 5:30pm, ICC, E5.1


Water research has devoted relatively little attention to theorising the relationship
between water expertise and the state’s governance. Studying this relationship is
important as it helps to explain the co-production mechanism by which a certain group
of experts rise to power, speaking for water—its challenges, and opportunities. Some
aspects of this gap has been addressed in the water literature through now-familiar
notions such as hydraulic bureaucracy and the hydraulic mission (Molle et al, 2009), in
which the prevailing role of engineers in the contemporary water management has been
brought into spotlight. STS has also developed particular perspectives on politics of
engineering infrastructures and how they become the integral part of state-making process
(Carroll, 2006, 2012; Mukerji, 2009; Barry, 2013). However, the dialectical nature of this
relationship, particularly when societies are fraught with fear of uncertain future, has
remained heavily under‐researched.
Through using the example of Iran’s looming water crisis, the paper demonstrates that
engineering and the Iranian governance have co-shaped one another, particularly after
Islamic Revolution. Focusing attention to unpack this relationship, the paper explains
how, and why Iranian engineering epistemic community has (re)directed care and
attention at the operations of the Iran’s bureaucracy as water crisis looms large.
The findings also suggests that invoking sense of fear through warning about dystopian
futures—which is common in times of water crisis—play an important role in producing
the sensibility of the state. One of the consequences is that it might perpetuate the
domination of established networks of experts (i.e. engineers), their epistemic practices,
and institutions of power. This is, of course, a great concern as it can lead to
depoliticisation of the water problem, monopolisation of water science, and
demonisation of democracy in the process of water governance.