Liquid Gold: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Water-Gender-Power Nexus in Tigray – Highland Ethiopia

Peters, Petula Christine. 2005. Liquid Gold: An Ethnographic Exploration of the Water-Gender-Power Nexus in Tigray – Highland Ethiopia. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Water is a crucial global resource and in this thesis I seek to find out how at the local level it is used and abused. This thesis examines the cultural politics of water within the development process by drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over a one-year period in rural Tigray, Highland Ethiopia. I explore people's ideas about water and analyse what is being done by local communities, NGOs and government policies to improve matters. These are important issues not only because of their impact on beneficiaries themselves but also on project outcomes, NGOs and policy makers. The literature regarding the anthropology of development describes the failure of most development projects to meet the needs of the stated beneficiaries, such as women and the poor and needy.

My study highlights the multiple realities underpinning the operation of and relations between agencies, institutions and local people involved in the implementation of water supply and sanitation (WSS) projects. My key question focuses on relations of power. The discourse of development masks the multifarious power relations that underscore the modernisation project. In this thesis I ask: how is power articulated (manifested) at the local level? Does this local situation mirror global power relations? By building on work carried out on gender and development I explore the discourse and rhetoric of development, particularly key terms such as 'empowerment' and 'participation'. I link this to what actually happens on the ground and ask: why do projects fall? I discuss this question with village people and explore the workings of the various institutions such as NGOs and local government bodies involved in the water development process in Tigray, Highland Ethiopia.

The gap between rhetoric and reality is explicable [on] at many different levels. Power struggles of many kinds occur during the various stages of project planning, implementation and evaluation. There are also many constraints on resources, particularly time and labour. I set these issues within the wider social contexts in which they are embedded, making the connections between global and local power relations and aid. I focused on an indigenous NGO, The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) to explore the contestations of power between the stakeholders in water resource use and development. To this end I suggest that there are at several levels a dynamic I term 'power blindness'.

A major concern of the thesis is gender and it explores a series of questions concerning the dynamic I term the water - gender - power nexus. NGOs and other actors in the development process espouse an ideology of gender equality and empowerment which differs from local views of gender relations. Is women's reluctance to participate in water projects a rejection of changing gender identities as the new 'modem' nation state is reconstructed as part of the globalisation project? I explore this tension from a feminist perspective and link this to the literature on gender and development, drawing on the work of Kandiyoti (1997) Cleaver (2000), Mosse (2005) and Abu-Lughod (1998) as well as critiquing other scholars such as Hammond (1999).

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Ethnography, Highland Ethiopia, Water Supply, Sanitation, Empowerment, Participation

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Date Deposited:

09 Jun 2020 12:12

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:38


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