Making Sense of Water Quality: Multispecies Encounters on the Mystic River

In: Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology

This paper takes water quality as an ethnographic subject. It looks at how water quality monitors in Boston make sense of the quality of water through mundane engagement with three non-human beings who they encounter during their monitoring activities: herring, bacteria and water lily. Each of these organisms suggests a different understanding of water quality for the monitors and poses a dilemma. Water quality monitors who contribute to the production of water quality data come to know water quality as through direct interactions with these beings, mediated by both sensorial experience and laboratory data. These experiences, at the same time, confuse and redraw relationships between science, water flows, non-human vitality, including that of invasive species, and people.

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     See also Helmreich (2005) on how the categorization of native/invasive in Hawaii depends on evaluation of the presence or absence of human agency.

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