Water, technology, and the transformation of everyday life along the Turkwel River 1965-2010

Name of applicant

Mads Petry Yding


University of Oxford


DKK 972,596



Type of grant

Visiting Fellowships at University of Oxford


My project is a historical investigation of the transformative agency of water in a rural resource scarce setting, experiencing recurrent water crises. The central case of this project is the Turkwel River, in arid Northern Kenya, which will be studied in the period from 1965 to 2010. The river has had immense effects on local modes of production, resource conflicts and from the 1960s it was increasingly seen as a driver for technological development such as irrigation schemes, hydropower, water catchment, and fish farming. From 1986 to 1991 the Turkwel Hydroelectric Power Station was constructed, and the river was dammed. The Turkwel in itself shaped the aspirations, plans, and effective materializations of these socio-technological endeavors, which in turn affected local everyday life.


The power of water to shape social and political-economic worlds is still understudied especially in connection with the recurrent water crisis in East Africa. Water is often reduced to the backdrop of politics and conflict, yet it holds enormous potential to transform everything from politics and technology to imagination, and everyday life. Three points characterize this study: An innovative approach to studying the entangled complexities of the relationship between natural resources, technology, and the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. A focus on local communities and their lived realities in environmental histories of water and technology development. A historical study of water management and the roots of water conflict in drylands in Africa, which are understudied.


This project rests on a holistic approach for studying socio-technological dynamics generated by water. I will utilize and develop the concepts of 'natural-cultural-technological assemblage' and 'thing-power materialism'. This will emphasize and focus the analysis on the power of non-human things to transform both themselves and their surroundings. To operationalize a historical study of local human processes around the Turkwel I will use and further develop the concepts of, 'appropriation', and 'resilience', in relation to everyday experiences within the shifting 'natural-cultural-technological assemblage'. The project will be based on archival research at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the FAO archive in Rome, the national archives in Kenya, and fieldwork in southern Turkana.

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