Thesis update – ‘benefits’

A previously described, my thesis is oriented around the concept of benefits generated within constructed wetland projects and their waterscapes. The way I think about this concept of benefits is constantly developing. This is a short post to try to summarise how I see each of the three key benefits, that I am developing into three thesis chapters, each with their own theoretical linkages and concerns, but with a connecting thread of thinking about the more-than-human processes and relations that make benefits possible.

Wastewater Treatment

After thinking about water quality, and gathering water quality data, I realised that what was at stake here was better described as ‘treating wastewater’, rather than ‘improving water quality’. This might just be semantics, but it makes the focus a more concrete. As I’ve seen, it’s possible for water quality to be improved without achieving the intended outcome of treated wastewater. Hence, wastewater treatment can be realised only through a combination of ways of knowing water quality alongside social processes that make this water quality meaningful.

In response, this chapter follows two lines of exploration. The first is to examine the social and ecological processes through which water and wastewater is transformed – what relations (social, ecological, infrastructural) shape wastewater quality in the case study wastewaterscapes? I include here water quality results alongside knowledge gained through conversations, engagements with wetland literature and direct observations. The second thread attempts to situate ideas of water quality, socially and historically, by asking about how water quality knowledge is generated. How do the processes through which water quality is known draw upon different discourses of water quality and hence (re)enact power relations? What is the role of more-than-human relations in these knowledge production processes?

Abstract image of water, plants and sludge

Resource production

This chapter still follows the vision laid out in this earlier post. I am currently writing the chronological stories of different forms of resource production, and refining my conclusions through interviews with project staff. The next stage, and where it all gets interesting is to think about what theoretical concepts to bring into conversation with these stories. A key observation that I would like to explore is the disconnect between the difficult of producing wetland resources and the way that the idea of wetland resources is promoted (see wetland rationale). One theme that has suggested itself is thinking about the moral economies that make resource production a focus. I am also inspired by Bakker and Bridge’s thoughts on networked thinking for resource geography.

the critical issue – and a fruitful focus for research – is the way in which contemporary materialities have been produced historically

Bakker and Bridge, 2006

I believe there is a lot of value in properly situating my stories. For example, how are fisheries being promoted in Uttarakhand, or across India? What are the ways that willow is being drawn into productive use in Scotland?

What insights can we draw about these plans (and their limited success) from reading the histories, discourses and materialities of wetland resources together?


All of my constructed wetlands are habitat for a wide variety of creatures. I am interested in thinking about what kind of habitat they are, how to judge good habitat and what processes are involved in habitat making. How, how well and for who are these wetlands habitat? In this way I approach infrastructural habitat as a site for a more-than-human biogeography oriented towards multispecies ethics. To investigate the material and representational dimensions of habitat, I am using the lenses of diversity and vulnerability, and aiming to think carefully about spaces and times.

How do diversity and vulnerability pattern habitat? What role does habitat play in the world-making of constructed wetlands?

My two lenses are explored through stories about wetland plants, insects, birds, borders, ammonia, flooding/drought, snakes and mosquitoes.

In researching this chapter I am exploring some of the concepts and methods of more-than-human ethnography as well as critical description, in Anna Tsing’s use of the term. I’m learning some ecological survey techniques, and exploring methods of visual analysis. Finding the right terminology, questions and stories that decentre but don’t ignore humans is a difficult challenge, but one that makes this chapter interesting.