Infrastructures of progress and dispossession

Collective responses to shrinking water access among farmers in Arequipa, Peru

in Focaal
Author:
Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen University of Copenhagen astrid.andersen@anthro.ku.dk

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Abstract

This article examines what economic growth and state versions of progress have done to small and medium-scale farmers in an urban setting, in Arequipa in southern Peru. The general reorganization of production, resources, and labor in the Peruvian economy has generated a discursive move to reposition small and medium-scale farmers as backward. This article analyzes how farmers struggle to find their place within a neoliberal urban ecology where different conceptions of what constitutes progress in contemporary Peru influence the landscape. Using an analytical lens that takes material and organizational infrastructures and practices into account, and situates these in specific historical processes, the article argues that farmers within the urban landscape of Arequipa struggle to reclaim land and water, and reassert a status that they experience to be losing. Such a historical focus on material and organizational infrastructural arrangements, it is argued, can open up for understanding how local and beyond-local processes tangle in complex ways and are productive of new subjectivities; how relations are reconfigured in neoliberal landscapes of progress and dispossession. Such an approach makes evident how state and nonstate actors invest affects, interests, and desires differently within a given landscape.

It is a particularity of Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru that the urban landscape is made up of a patchwork of parts with buildings, roads and cement, and parts of cultivated land. The cultivated areas are known as la campiña arequipeña, the Arequipan countryside. La campiña arequipeña stands out as a green contrast to the urbanized and arid areas around it, and often la campiña is talked about as the lungs of the city; it is made up of demarcated fields, chacras, owned and cultivated by individual farmers. La chacra is a site of production, of cultivation, where soil, sun, water, hands, and tools work together to make crops: cauliflower, garlic, lima beans, potatoes, and alfalfa, a type of forage that feeds chickens, guinea pigs, cattle, and other domesticated

Figure 1
Figure 1

Spatial distribution of irrigated areas (grey) and urbanized areas (black) in the city of Arequipa. Map produced by author, in collaboration with SEDAPAR S.A., and printed with permission.

Citation: Focaal—Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 2016, 74; 10.3167/fcl.2016.740103

animals that will eventually be eaten. In these pockets of green the smells, sounds, and colors are different from those in other parts of the city: birds are singing, you can hear the water flow peacefully through the irrigation canals, or acequias; cattle are grazing; every now and then a dog barks, guarding territory from the intrusion of some stranger. Farming is practiced on a small scale, mainly by landowners who produce for their own consumption and a regional market. This kind of agricultural production stands in contrast to the large-scale industrial agriculture being practiced in irrigated desert areas outside Arequipa and along the Peruvian coast, in which crops are produced mainly for international export.

Farming and farmers have played a central role within this particular urban ecology, and in Arequipa, farmers and farming practices are performed as central figures in traditions, collective memory, festivities, and celebrations. Yet as more and more cultivated countryside has been urbanized, and economic activity is shifting from local and regional agriculture to industry, services, and extraction of minerals (inserted into global economies), Arequipan land, water, and human resources are increasingly invested in other activities, and the population that was previously sustaining the economy of the city is now considered backward. In 2011, close to 9,500 hectares were being cultivated within the area of metropolitan Arequipa.

Although protected by provincial authorities, the campiña arequipeña is continuously diminishing; within the last two decades, approximately 10,000 hectares of cultivated land have been transformed into urban neighborhoods, leaving small-scale farmers with less land and water for cultivation.

This transformation of the urban landscape links up with the general shift in productive and economic activity that Peru is experiencing, informed by a national narrative that defines progress in a narrow idiom, emphasizing economic growth through extraction of minerals, commerce, and agro export to global markets and accompanied by laws and policies promoting privatization and decentralization. In this process values related to labor, territory, and water use are being redefined (Boelens and Vos 2012). Across different social sciences, scholars are discussing whether or not the term “neoliberalism” (as well as “neoliberalization”) can be used to qualify and describe these processes (Boelens and Vos 2012; Oré and Rap 2009; Lynch 2012) and similar processes occurring elsewhere (GDAT 2012; Heynen et al. 2007). Well aware of the danger of singularizing the understanding of global and local processes, I use the term “neoliberal urban ecology” to qualify the way socio-economical, political, and material processes of global, national, and local scope converge and shape the city in a particular historical moment.

In Neoliberal environments (2007) Heynen et al. call for studies that explore the disparity in experience and diversity in the way political strategies and institutional reorganizations that can be identified as neoliberal impact specific environments. Heynen et al. argue that it is necessary to reflexively identify the “meta-logics” of various processes taking place in the world (2007: 2–4). The book presents several case studies to show how neoliberalization takes plural shapes, affecting local environments in a variety of ways (Heynen et al. 2007: 7–9).

In line with the call of Heynen et al. I describe and analyze the positions created for farmers in Arequipa by material practices of different times, and I show how farmers engage in organizational practices to counteract the framings that currently exist for them within an urban ecology that is constantly changing. Since the 1990s, changes in the urban environment, specifically those related to the management of water, can be qualified as neoliberalization. The article tells a story about how farmers struggle to find their place within an urban ecology where different conceptions of what constitutes progress in contemporary Peru influence the making of the city and its different possible livelihoods. The story of dispossession and “progress” will be told through two types of infrastructure: material infrastructures that serve to hold, channel, and distribute water, such as canals, reservoirs, and water towers; and second, through organizational infrastructures such as irrigation committees and irrigation organizations that farmers engage with to channel claims and interests, reclaim land and water, and reassert a status that they experience themselves as losing, within a legal framework that pushes towards governing water with market logics.

What happens to the way in which farming and the subject positioning of farmers are valued when the majority of arequipeños no longer make a living from farming, and when status, land, and water are distributed to other activities than farming? This article explores these questions by examining what economic growth and state versions of progress, informed by neoliberal metalogics, have done to small and medium-scale farmers in an urban setting.

I build the analysis with insights from materialist approaches to the study of social life and environments, emphasizing how infrastructures literally materialize and project particular notions of modernity and progress (Edwards 2003; Harvey and Knox 2010, 2012; Kaika 2006; Otter 2010). The focus on the connection between material infrastructures and affective engagement with notions of progress and economic expansion is inspired by and relates well to anthropologists Penny Harvey and Hannah Knox’s (2010, 2012) work on road construction in Peru. Historian of modernity Chris Otter (2010) argues that in order to understand urban processes, we have to focus on the physical texture of urban space. Otter states that material and immaterial aspects are deeply intertwined in cities, and by studying material processes we can reveal historicity, blur the analytical binary between nature and society, and place power centrally in the analysis (2010: 38–41). Inspired by Otter, I look at material as well as organizational infrastructures around water access within the same analytical lens.

I begin with the story of an effort of organizational arrangement among farmers in Arequipa and with the description of organizational irrigation infrastructures. Second, I describe the historical emergence of the rural-urban landscape of Arequipa. Third, I attend to two concrete infrastructures—an irrigation canal from 1940 and a drinking water tower from 2010—to explore how these contribute to the making of subject positions for farmers in the urban landscape. The ethnographic and analytic view oscillates between the materiality of infrastructures on the one hand and organizational engagements on the other, relating these to two historical processes—the introduction of a new water law and the transformation of la campiña—and their respective narratives of modernization. In different historical moments, varying notions of progress and modernity have been promoted by the Peruvian state, materialized in different kinds of infrastructures. When starting the analysis around material infrastructures and linking these to larger historical processes, I suggest, it becomes clear how the history of an urban landscape is composed by continuous processes of progress and dispossession, productive of particular subjectivities and particular modes of collective responses. I argue that by tracing histories and relations around material infrastructures ethnographically, we can grasp how local and global processes permeate local worlds and are experienced and acted upon. Such a historical analysis can bring us closer to identifying and qualifying certain processes and moves as neoliberalization.

Organizational irrigation infrastructures

In July 2011, a group of farmers gathered in front of the regional agriculture authority in Arequipa to protest against their exclusion from participation in a newly established organ of decision making over the distribution of water flowing through the watershed that feeds their cultivated fields. The farmers, members of five irrigation organizations, formed a collective body and demanded to talk to the director of the regional agriculture authority to request inclusion in the new organ. They were received by the director, and as a result of the protest, all five irrigation organizations were invited to form part of the grupo impulsor, the group of influential actors working in the design of a new watershed council. These new institutional arrangements, the grupo impulsor and the watershed council, were results of a new law of water resources promulgated in 2009 by President Alan García.

Water Law 29338 was presented as a response to the threat of climate change, urban population growth, and the increasing importance of the mining industry (ANA 2010; del Castillo 2011). Law 29338 affirms water to be a “public good,” belonging to the state. At the same time, however, it continues attempts from the 1990s and early 2000s to create water markets. From 1993 to 2000 the Peruvian government made fifteen attempts at a law to privatize water. All failed, however, due to strong opposition from the irrigation organizations (Oré et al. 2009: 52–53). Water Law 29338 is inspired by the global paradigm of integrated water resources management, which is promoted by the World Bank, and holds that water management must involve all water-using sectors of society, gathered in watershed councils (Pærregaard et al. accepted, 2016). Further, this new water law was introduced as part of the adaptation of several Peruvian laws to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States signed by President Alan García in 2007 (del Castillo 2011: 94–95). These initiatives, following ideas of marketization and decentralization of responsibilities, can easily be described in terms of neoliberalization. The former law of 1969 was part of the agrarian reform and favored water rights for irrigation use. Under this legislation all juntas de usuarios (irrigation organizations) in Arequipa participated in decision making over distribution of water and water licenses. Law 29338, in contrast, integrates all uses of water, including human consumption and industrial use. In the new watershed council, which will be consulted when distributing water licenses, the voices of six juntas de usuarios will be represented by one.

One month after the protest, the technical manager of the Junta de Usuarios, whom I call Martín,1 explained in an interview:

We had to be included in the grupo impulsor! This is a crucial moment. The state is slowly leaving us out of spaces of influence. In the new watershed council we (farmers) will only have one vote against seven nonagrarian water users. The state is giving our waters to mining and to population use. All we can do in this situation is to strengthen our organizations; get strong and form a mass that can make demands, a mass that can object and protest. It is important to be strong as an organization. You know, governments in all places see only masses. If a mass protests, they pay attention. If you are only a small group trying to make pressure, nothing will happen.

The protest of the farmers in Arequipa can be understood as a response to a general shift in the organization of production and of prioritizing the use of land and natural resources such as water in Peru.

Farmers receive water for their chacras through irrigation canals. Licenses for irrigation use of water are collective, held by irrigation committees. These are independent organizations formed by the users of a canal. All users must pay tariffs and participate in meetings and assemblies in which decisions about irrigation turns and distribution are made. The committees are recognized by the state as operators of minor hydraulic infrastructure. Each year, a committee directorate is elected. The directorate is responsible for the administration of the committee and the operation of the canal. In Arequipa a total of thirty-three irrigation committees are functioning; these are joined in two different juntas de usuarios, independent non-profit organs organized around a collectively used hydraulic system. The juntas are responsible of the operation and maintenance of the infrastructure: they distribute water, charge and administer tariffs, and represent the interests of the users of water for irrigation when negotiating with state and private actors, as we saw in the protest just described.

The irrigation organizations were created by the Water Law of 1969; during the 1970s and 1980s these organizations grew strong throughout the country, not without significant differences in how the organization was received and shaped in the ethnically, geographically and socially heterogeneous Peruvian landscape. A national organization grouping all irrigation water users was formed in 1983, the Junta Nacional de Usuarios de los Distritos de riego del Perú. Ironically, this organizational infrastructure that channels the interest of farmers in all of Peru (broadly speaking), advocates for water as a public good, and has protested strongly against intentions to privatize water rights as a result of state programs of minimizing state governance of water. In 1989, when the Peruvian state was in a tremendous economic crisis, state functions and responsibilities for irrigation systems were transferred to the juntas de usuarios, via Decree 037-89-AG, marking a radical change in the role of the state in water governance, as part of a shift to a new economic model, open to and promoting a free market economy and foreign investment in water infrastructure and operation. The irrigation organizations grew stronger. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, when Peruvian governments continuously moved to privatize water rights and create water markets the junta infrastructure served to channel significant resistance and opposition: mass mobilizations throughout the country and negotiations with state actors (Oré and Rap 2009: 34). The law of 2009, although still claiming water as a public good, redistributes the control over water infrastructures, minimizing the power and influence of farmers and their organizations by creating watershed councils where other productive sectors, such as mining, energy, and industry are included.

Having described the organizational infrastructures around irrigation in Arequipa and Peru, and some of the latest changes in water governance, which can be coined as moves of neoliberalization, I examine how water has been captured and conceptualized in changing ways and inscribed into relations of ownership and property through time. What follows is a historical look at the landscape where these infrastructures emerged and at the early water legislation in Peru.

The emergence of a rural-urban identity and landscape

Since pre-Incaic times, human life in the Arequipa Valley and the Chili River Watershed has been based on agriculture. Arequipa sits at the edge of the Atacama Desert, but native inhabitants turned the land into a fertile and cultivated valley long before the Spanish founded a city, through elaborate systems of irrigation canals and terrace agriculture (Chambers 1999: 21). Particular to the economic activity in Arequipa since Spanish colonization in the mid-1500s has been a rural-urban agriculture, with a majority of properties being small or medium-sized farms. During colonization the indigenous population was dispossessed of the land it had been cultivating prior to Spanish arrival. The patterns of land tenure characterized by enormous estates and haciendas known in other parts of Peru and Latin America were not practiced in Arequipa (Davis 1984: 5). This particular pattern of land-holding, resulting from various factors such as restricted access to colonial markets as well as a limited local consumer market and labor shortage, generated a reputation of Arequipa being a place with land distributed equitably among mestizos (Davis 1984). The city grew steadily, and with this growth a local market for agricultural goods emerged. Landowners grew crops in vast fields throughout the valley, and farming landowners came to make up a central part of the dominating elite and of the collective imaginary and proud identity of the city. Farmers established vineyards along the banks of the Chili River and produced wines and brandy to be sold to the mining center of Potosí (Davis 1984: 22). Throughout the colonial period and after independence in the 1820s, Arequipa based its economy on agriculture and trade.

The first independent water legislation of the Republic of Peru was promulgated in 1902: the Water Code (Código de Aguas). This code was by and large a copy of the Spanish Water Law of 1879. The Water Code of 1902 considered water a private good (bien privado). Water and landed property went hand in hand; the landowner also owned the water springing on it or flowing through it. This law facilitated control by the owners of haciendas and large estates throughout the Peruvian coast of production of sugar and cotton, and in the highlands of production of wool. Further, the law facilitated expansion of these properties into the lands of indigenous populations, and exploitation by landowners of this population as a labor force (Franco Guardia et al. 2003: 18–19; Oré and del Castillo 2006: 1–2). In 1911, two significant institutional changes were made in water management. In Lima, the Dirección General de Aguas was established, and in each of the coastal valleys so-called Technical Commissions (Comisiones Técnicas) were installed, with the objective of rationalizing water distribution and modernizing the hydraulic infrastructure (Oré and del Castillo 2006: 2, Oré et al. 2009: 49). Engineers, as state functionaries, ran these institutions. In the following years, the first major irrigation projects began to be built on the coast. Ideas of modernization and development through large-scale agriculture and export were gaining strength. In 1933, water was established as patrimony of the state.2 However, this remained a paper rule and had no effect on the de facto power of the Peruvian oligarchy, which according to a census in 1961 owned 75.9 percent of the agricultural lands. Hence the hacendados were the prime beneficiaries of the major irrigation infrastructures financed by the state and built after 1930, in the name of rationalization and modernization of agriculture.

In 1940 the city of Arequipa celebrated the fourth centennial of its foundation by inaugurating several construction works that would contribute to the modernization of the city (Zeballos 2006). Among these were a city stadium and a new irrigation structure: the Canal Miraflores.

Canal Miraflores: progress in 1940

This is the first canal that was built of noble materials and well done [bien hecho] in Arequipa; all of its functions are mechanical. To me, this canal was a novelty and a great advancement for Arequipa (Luís, guided tour, 2011).

Luís was born in Arequipa in 1944; he studied agronomic engineering and owns and cultivates 6.2 hectares of land, which he inherited from his father. On this land he cultivates vegetables, potatoes, fruits, and forage for his animals: cows and geese. Luís lives from the income from the sale of products to local markets. His fields are irrigated every seven days, on Tuesdays, for three hours. Luís is a member of an irrigation commission that holds a collective water license and the right to use the water flowing through the Canal Miraflores; his fields are the first to be irrigated by this canal. The property borders the Chili River on the left margin of the river, approximately 7 kilometers north of the city center. From here the intake of the Canal Miraflores can be visited. He shows the structure of the intake of the canal, while telling the story of the engineer who constructed it in the late 1930s, Manuel Muñóz Nájar. The canal traverses the entire city; it irrigates fields from the most northern district to Sabandía in southeastern Arequipa. It was inaugurated on August 15, 1940, as part of the celebration of the fourth centennial of the founding of Arequipa. In the words of Luís:

With this canal, engineer Muñóz Nájar wanted to encompass the entire campiña on the left margin side of the river. He thought too many artisanal intakes were a problem because everyone needs water, and the people upstream would use up water before reaching chacras downstream. This engineer was extremely advanced and a visionary, people called him crazy; they couldn’t see what he saw. But the canal erased many problems from the map, as well as many artisanal intakes. Unfortunately, since 1940, no other canal like this has been constructed.

The intake is a construction of concrete with iron valves and a gate of wood and large screws. It stands with one part in the Chili River, embracing it to capture water from the stream that passes by with a steady flow, and the other on the riverbank, where it connects to a reservoir before water flows into the canal that leads it to the many fields. The flow of the Chili River is steady all year round because it receives water from a highly regulated system (Sistema Regulado del Chili). This system consists of seven dams, built from 1957 on, interconnected by rivers and canals, regulated by public institutions and a multisectorial board of water users. The hydraulic system captures water from precipitation in the rainy season and stores water in large volumes in the dams located in the highlands. From the dams, water is meticulously released throughout the year, according to the demands in the city and to the amount of water available. Luís tells that when he was a child, the Chili River would sometimes be dry enough to pass it on foot. Thanks to the dams, this is no longer possible.
This encounter with Luís, his fields and the Canal Miraflores gives insight into a vision of progress and well-being linked to farming and agriculture. A canal of concrete structure inaugurated in 1940 is considered a modern invention, a visionary initiative that benefited farmers, envisioning these as cultivators of progress and well-being. Luís laments that since 1940 no other irrigation infrastructure like this one has been built. And he laments the transformations in the landscape around him:

If we compare la campiña arequipeña now with the year 1960, we see a big difference. At this time of year, when walking up to the higher parts of Arequipa, like Carmen Alto, and looking down, you would see the entire campiña stand yellow. At this time of year the harvest of corn, wheat and barley is near, and you could see how the colors would change according to the season. Now, when I go up to the same places and look down, I see the entire campiña sowed with cement.

Luís refers negatively to the urbanization of lands around his fields. He comments on the present landscape based on memories from the past. He continues, and with a notion of critique toward current developments he suggests that it could be otherwise:

The area being cultivated has reached a minimum. Farmers used to be cultivating hectares, nowadays they cultivate furrows [surcos]; the properties have been pulverized. This is for a simple reason: neglect by the Ministry of Agriculture and the governments; these have permitted farms to be objects of inheritance. If the government would support these farmers—help them buy an entire property—farmers would have at least 5 hectares; each farmer could sustain a family. Now, with each generation the properties get smaller; farming a furrow is not profitable.

Luís blames politicians for having failed at governance, causing urbanization of the landscape and reduction of cultivated areas. When asked directly about the future of Arequipa, he comments:

Unless we organize well, unless we get good law, this entire area will be urbanized. I estimate this area to have thirty to fifty more years of cultivation. It seems to me that the only interest of the authorities currently taking public office is to figure as politicians or presidents, without a real intention of governing. They don’t know what it means to govern. They come with intention of filling their pockets … In the end, we are all harmed, and there is no progress, not even a single step.

Luís emphasizes the tension between the progress and advancement materialized in the Canal Miraflores and the lack of progress materialized in current moves of politicians and authorities lacking visions and capacities to govern. Luís’s notions of progress and desires for well-being contrast with the processes he sees unfold in the landscape around him. While small-scale farmers in the 1940s were central to the dominating notions of progress, now farmers are slowly being dispossessed of their land and water due to migration and urbanization, and due to lack of vision and capacities of political authorities. While doing fieldwork in Arequipa, I heard Luís’s opinions echoed by other farmers, in meetings of irrigation committees. To further describe the displacement of farmers from contemporary notions of progress, let us look at how farmers are portrayed in everyday urban life.

Portraying the farmer as backward

Like Luís, the vast majority of farmers in Arequipa irrigate their fields by gravity, letting the vertical topography and the weight of water work together to make water flow to the crops. A vertical topography causes continuous motion in water, in a downhill-searching flow, a topographic particularity that has been exploited for thousands of years to facilitate irrigation agriculture in the Andean region (Boelens 2009; Gelles 2000). Gravity-fed irrigation is by far the most widespread irrigation technique in the Peruvian Andes; it is often described as a sophisticated expertise developed and practiced by the Incas. However, gravity-fed irrigation does not meet official technical irrigation efficiency standards, since often more water is used than the crop requires. Since the early 2000s the Peruvian state has promoted the modernization of irrigation techniques through programs financed by foreign loans with the aim of optimizing water efficiency. To farmers in Arequipa, gravity irrigation is tradition and experienced as the normal way of irrigating fields. To water authorities and experts, gravity irrigation is considered inefficient, since it feeds soils and plants with more water than required for them to grow and produce income.

In an article by Boelens and Vos (2011), classical engineering efficiencies are defined as “the fraction of the applied water that is ‘beneficially used’” (Boelens and Vos 2011: 19). The authors are highly critical of the way in which engineers’ claims of efficiency have become universal standards; local contextualization and notions of efficiency are often excluded and ignored in decision making (Boelens and Vos 2011). The same can be claimed in Arequipa; as the demands for water for mining, large-scale industrial agriculture for exportation, and population use are increasing, the irrigation techniques applied by farmers in Arequipa for centuries are revalued as negative. State agriculture institutions and water authorities are promoting “efficient” and “modern” techniques of irrigation through policies, special programs, and campaigns, and the position of farmers in public discourse has shifted. In public life, small and medium-scale farmers are often portrayed as backward, ignorant, and inefficient, as hampering progress and not fitting into the picture of a modern Peru driven by an economy of mineral extraction and industrial agriculture. In the next section I introduce a second water infrastructure.

A dispossessing water tower: Progress in 2010

Martín is an agronomic engineer, and the technical manager of the junta de usuarios de riego in the subbasin called Chili no-regulado—the unregulated Chili basin. In contrast to the rest of the Chili River basin, this part of the Chili Watershed does not have a regulatory infrastructure; it is provided with water from natural springs, fed by melting water from the snows of the volcano Pichu-Pichu. As the glaciers are melting, due to rising temperatures, farmers in the nonregulated part of the watershed are suffering from springs drying out. It is estimated that due to reduction in water availability, 30 percent of the fields that used to be cultivated within the nonregulated watershed have dried out and are no longer being cultivated. In August 2011 Martín took me on a tour to the subbasin where the junta operates water for irrigation. The junta has close to 10,500 members, organized in eighteen committees, who all use water for irrigation of cultivated fields.

Under his wide-brimmed hat, which is typical of farmers in Arequipa, Martín showed me the dry lands of the subbasin; the tour ended in a recently urbanized neighborhood. “This is the killer,” Martín stated with an emotional voice as he stopped the car in front of a water tower.

The water tower in the urban district of Machabaya, in the southeastern part of the city of Arequipa, is a tall cylindrical construction, about eight meters in diameter. With its body of gray massive concrete, it reaches about 18 meters into an often deep blue sky. The water tower is constructed to serve several functions: it penetrates 150 meters into the subsoil from where it pumps up groundwater, which is then stored in a white reservoir on top of the tower. It also serves as a point of distribution of water—through pipes and valves—to the urban population dwelling in its proximity. It can be seen from far away, and on the white upper part it has written on it in sky-blue capital letters: GOBIERNO REGIONAL DE AREQUIPA 2007–2010. Next to the text sits the logo of the regional government: a multicolored sun in movement. This visual aspect of the water tower marks its ownership; through the tower, the regional government is present in the urban settlement.

The water tower was inaugurated in 2010. The copper mining company Cerro Verde, which operates in the watershed where Arequipa is located, financed the drillings, and the regional government of Arequipa financed the construction of infrastructure as well as its operation and daily functioning. Around the water tower, a kind of suburban life is unfolding. Some people are watering the dusty road or little plants in front of their homes; a street vendor is selling newspapers, cigarettes, soft drinks, and sweets from a stand; a few taxis are waiting for customers; and dogs are running around or resting in a shady spot.

The water tower assembles material and human efforts; it assembles public service, water governance, machine and human labor, and private and public investment and intervention, making urban life possible in a place with no surface water and hence facilitating quotidian well-being. The water tower works with regimes of public and private investment and with the dynamics of regional politics and urban expansion. There are fourteen towers like this one in the southeastern part of Arequipa. For the urban dwellers in Machabaya, these water towers represent life and progress. Yet the towers have consequences beyond the well-being of the urban population. While water is pumped toward urban dwellers, subterranean veins of water are reduced; creeks and water flows that used to irrigate cultivated fields in the area are disappearing. For Martín and the farmers in the area, these towers cause distress and a reduction of opportunities for making a living.

Martín is emotionally affected as he explains that the areas around this urbanized area used to make up a fertile valley, with cultivation of fruits and vegetables:

With climate change there is less rainfall in the highlands, less water to fill the springs that feed the fields. Now the valley is dead, and the regional government killed it. Urbanization killed the valley, and most of the people living here are not even from Arequipa! All that farmers can do is to raise pigs or sell their land for urbanization, which is prohibited, but being done massively.

The veins of groundwater feed the water flows that farmers and small-scale peasants use to irrigate their fields. With the fourteen water towers in Machabaya, constantly pumping up water for population use, the springs have dried out. “We still pay and have our license for water use, but as you see, not enough water reaches our fields. The people that live here have invaded the land illegally, they obtain their rights and the authorities even give them water,” Martín states. “The law gives priority to population use, and so do the politicians, because urban population represents votes.”

The towers physically transform the landscape Martín has inhabited since he was a child, and they make farming impossible. This tour to the water tower and the land around it, where new urban populations and farmers are silently fighting over the same scarce water, shows how infrastructures, made to respond to human needs, are never simply isolated technical solutions. The water tower does more than transform groundwater to water accessible for population use; it does not end where its clearly defined concrete stops or in the homes where it provides water. It interweaves conflicting modes of living, urban politics and daily practicalities, as well as memories of origin and expectations of future well-being. In this sense, the water tower produces progress and dispossession simultaneously. While the sun shines from the logo of the regional government down to the urban settlers, a dark shade is cast over farmers who used to cultivate the land around it.

Martín’s grief can be understood in the light of the status and power farmers have until recently held over water, land, and politics in Arequipa. Both Martín and Luís experience the space around them as shrinking, due to various processes that contrast with the vision of progress that Canal Miraflores was built to canalize. In the next section, I follow Luís and Martín’s accusations and claims in order to examine the layers of dispossession extending into the landscape from the two infrastructures.

Shrinkage: Changing property relations

How do we explore the dispossession taking place in Arequipa without losing sight of the complex beyond-local processes having an impact on farming and water distribution? The processes of water governance have been qualified as neoliberalization, but this term does not explain how these processes are experienced and contested by the people inhabiting an urban neoliberal ecology. Kirsten Hastrup writes about northern Greenland that as climate change causes ice to be more fragile, there is a “definite sense of shrinking of space” among hunters (2009: 187). This shrinking is related to a loss of space for economic, political, and cultural maneuvering (Hastrup 2009: 181).

In a very different environment, Martín and Luís experience their space of maneuvering as shrinking. Life in Arequipa as they knew it since they were children is changing. When looking at Martín’s land, it is literally shrinking in physical scope because of water scarcity and migrants invading the land. The shrinking space can also be understood in terms of the scope of action and influence. The actors generating scarcity of water and land in Martín’s part of the watershed are several and engaging simultaneously on the same territory. Martín blames climate change for drying out the springs, and “climate change,” he states, “is caused by big countries such as China and United States, not Peru.” But he blames the state for several issues: for having taken his land during land reforms, then for not defending his rights of access to water; he blames urbanization and invaders from the highlands for taking his water and the regional state authority for acting out of electoral calculation, favoring the invaders over farmers in the distribution of water rights because the former represent votes.

When looking at the landscape of la campiña arequipeña, it becomes clear how material elements located in a given territory permeate the landscape through complex processes, as they tangle with interests, desires, emotions, practices, water, and resources. By following Martín’s lines of blame, we see that some of them are oriented toward actions and political processes within a local domain, while others are oriented toward regional and national legal frameworks, inspired by shifting international forces. Climate change, the economy, and strategies of the mining industry are beyond local control but inserted in a particular territory, where they become materialized in water towers, melting glaciers, and drying-up water sources, taking place and together making up an entangled landscape of dispossession and progress.

What guides Martín in his claims and accusations are ideas of what is just and unjust. The perpetrators of unjust actions are spread over several spatial and temporal scales, and it is difficult to pinpoint one particular enemy. Part of Martín’s anger is caused by the sense of being left desprotegidos (unprotected) and desamparados (helpless) by local, regional, and national authorities that do not care about farmers and their loss of water and power. The affective engagement with material infrastructures, I suggest, forms part of the struggle to reclaim land and water and to reassert a status that farmers experience themselves as losing. Leaders of the irrigation organizations engage in building organizational infrastructures: through meetings, mobilization of harm, and bodies, pressure is generated and exercised on authorities and private instances in order to reclaim influence and make water keep flowing in their direction.

Reappropriation through maintenance of organizational infrastructures

The story of small-scale farmers in Arequipa mirrors, and is a part of, the story of how relations of power and class in Peru have changed with the shift in organization of production and the integration of the Peruvian economy into global markets, attended by neoliberal policies and neo-liberalizing effects. In this process the values of natural and human resources are renegotiated. The problems and solutions that farmers identify and formulate are different from the problems and solutions articulated by water authorities, thus resulting in disagreements when it comes to generating collective response and technological solutions to the problems (Harvey 2007: 176).

If the history of Arequipan landscape and infrastructures is a history of continuous dispossession, then how are we to understand the subjects responding and working toward reclaiming a place in that landscape? Both Martín and Luís point to collective forces as tools for reclaiming status, water, and land. Martín is convinced that strengthening the organization, bettering skills, and becoming more efficient in operating a canal (efficiency here meaning that all users are registered and pay their tariffs, and that registers are updated and accurate), the organization will survive and be able to put pressure on the government, and farmers will still be able to irrigate their fields in the nonregulated subbasin: “Besides a shortage of water, the main problem we are facing is the complete and total indifference of the government, a neglect of our users … If we don’t have a strong organization, we cannot put pressure on the government. We need our organization, which is the total sum of users, to be strong.”

The lines of blame, directed at political authorities, are modes of assigning responsibility and mobilizing collective forces to insist on alternative versions of progress. This building of organizational infrastructures through which to exercise pressure (Anand 2011; Andersen 2014) is not new. Mobilization of claims through social organization is indeed politics as usual throughout Latin America. However, in a context of changing organization of production, restructured legislation, and institutions of water governance, farmers will have to continuously reshape their ways of posing claims.

Ethnographically I have argued that, due to decades of urbanization and extractivist politics, farmers find themselves in a new situation in which they see their access to land, water, and influence diminish. Peruvian state agencies have handled internal migration and urbanization by accompanying their policies with a particular way of discursively placing the farmers in an antagonistic relationship to a national narrative of progress. Analytically I have argued that a historical focus on material and organizational infrastructural arrangements can open up for understanding how local and beyond-local processes tangle in complex ways and are productive of new subjectivities; how relations are reconfigured in neoliberal landscapes of progress and dispossession. Such an approach makes evident how state and nonstate actors invest affects, interests, and desires differently in a given landscape. By visiting two material infrastructures, and following views about them, we have seen how infrastructures simultaneously distribute ideas of progress and layers of dispossession. Farmers struggle to reclaim a position of status through moral and affective reactions and by professions to strengthen organizational efforts.

In this article I have proposed to grasp how processes of neoliberalization take place and shape the urban ecology in Arequipa. None of the farmers described to me the processes affecting their shrinking water availability as products of neoliberalism. It may be relevant to ask, then, if it makes sense to connect the processes described to a metalogics called neoliberalization? What is gained and what is lost by doing so? If we understand neoliberalism as projects with a political, economic, and ideological lineage of reducing regulations on capital accumulation and flows (Heynen et al. 2007: 5), then “modernity,” “progress,” and “efficiency” as described in this article, can be identified as connected to neoliberal “metalogics.” Connecting processes in this manner, can serve as an analytical device for describing a variety of phenomena that take place and affect places, landscapes, and people differently in various locations, within the same analytical frame, and hence enable comparisons across different sites and lived lives. By examining ethnographically how these metalogics are materialized, experienced, and contested in a particular context, the analyses avoid buying into abstract, ahistorical, and ageographical concepts of neoliberalism.

Acknowledgments

This article is based on research carried out in a collective research project, “From ice to stone: Climate change, water scarcity, and conflict solution in the Andes of Southern Peru,” at the University of Copenhagen. This project was headed by Karsten Paerregaard and funded by The Danish Council for Independent Research. I am grateful to colleagues of that research project, as well of those of the Waterworlds Programme led by Kirsten Hastrup, for providing a stimulating research environment. I thank Oscar Salemink and Mattias Borg Rasmussen for their detailed reading and constructive suggestions on earlier versions of this article. I further thank the anonymous Focaal reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Finally, I am indebted to the people and organizations in Arequipa who contributed to my research during and after fieldwork.

Notes

1

All persons mentioned in the article have been anonymized.

2

Article 37 of the Political Constitution of 1933 states: “The mines, lands, forests, waters, and, generally, all natural sources of wealth belong to the state, except those that are acquired legally” (Franco Guardia et al. 2003: 19; Oré and del Castillo 2006: 2).

References

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  • Anand, Nikhil. 2011. Pressure: The politechnics of water supply in Mumbai. Cultural Anthropology 26(4): 542564.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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  • Boelens, Rutgerd, and Jeroen Vos. 2012. The danger of naturalizing water policy concepts: Water productivity and efficiency discourses from field irrigation to virtual water trade. Agricultural Water Management 108: 1626.

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    • Export Citation
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  • del Castillo, Laureano. 2011. Ley de Recursos Hídricos: Necesaria pero no suficiente. Debate Agrario 45: 91118.

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Contributor Notes

Astrid O. Andersen holds a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, where she is currently a postdoctoral research fellow. Andersen’s PhD dissertation, “Water is life: An ethnography of urban ecology and water politics in Arequipa, Peru,” presents an ethno-graphic approach to the study of a waterworld and shows the complex entanglements of people, technology, resources, politics, and knowledge in an urban ecology. E-mail: astrid.andersen@anthro.ku.dk

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Focaal

Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology

  • Figure 1

    Spatial distribution of irrigated areas (grey) and urbanized areas (black) in the city of Arequipa. Map produced by author, in collaboration with SEDAPAR S.A., and printed with permission.

  • ANA (Autoridad Nacional del Agua). 2010. Ley de recursos hídricos y su reglamento. Ley No. 29338. Lima: Ministerio de Agricultura.

  • Anand, Nikhil. 2011. Pressure: The politechnics of water supply in Mumbai. Cultural Anthropology 26(4): 542564.

  • Andersen, Astrid O. 2014. Water is life: An ethnography of urban ecology and water politics in Arequipa, Peru. PhD diss., University of Copenhagen.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Boelens, Rutgerd. 2009. The politics of disciplining water rights. Development and Change 40(2): 307331.

  • Boelens, Rutgerd, and Jeroen Vos. 2012. The danger of naturalizing water policy concepts: Water productivity and efficiency discourses from field irrigation to virtual water trade. Agricultural Water Management 108: 1626.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chambers, Sarah C. 1999. From subjects to citizens: Honor, gender, and politics in Arequipa, Peru, 1780–1854. University Park: Pennsylvania State University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davis, Keith A. 1984. Landowners in colonial Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  • del Castillo, Laureano. 2011. Ley de Recursos Hídricos: Necesaria pero no suficiente. Debate Agrario 45: 91118.

  • Edwards, Paul N. 2003. Infrastructure and modernity: Force, time, and social organization in the history of sociotechnical systems. In Thomas J. Misa, Philip Brey, and Andrew Feenberg, eds., Modernity and technology, pp. 185226. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Franco Guardia et al.2003. La legislación peruana sobre recursos hídricos, 19692003. Lima: IICA.

  • GDAT (Group for Debates in Anthropological Theory). 2012. The concept of neoliberalism has become an obstacle to the anthropological understanding of the twenty-first century. http://www.talkinganthropology.com/2013/01/18/ta45-gdat1neoliberalism/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gelles, Paul H. 2000. Water and power in highland Peru: The cultural politics of irrigation and development. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, Penelope. 2007. Arresting mobility or locating expertise: “Globalisation” and the “knowledge society.” In Marianne Lien and Marit Melhuus, eds., Holding worlds together, ethnographies of knowing and belonging, pp. 163183. New York: Berghahn Books.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, Penny, and Hannah Knox. 2010. Abstraction, materiality, and the “science of the concrete” in engineering practice. In Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce, eds., Material powers: Cultural studies, history, and the material turn. New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Harvey, Penny, and Hannah Knox. 2012. The enchantments of infrastructure. Mobilities 7(4): 521536.

  • Hastrup. Kirsten. 2009. The nomadic landscape: People in a changing Arctic environment. Geografisk Tidsskrift–Danish Journal of Geography 109(2): 181189.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Heynen, Nik, James McCarthy, Scott Prudham, and Paul Robbins. 2007. Neoliberal environments: False promises and unnatural consequences. New York:Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaika, Maria. 2006. Dams as symbols of modernization: The urbanization of nature between geographical imagination and materiality. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96(2): 276301.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lynch, Barbara Deutsch. 2012. Vulnerabilities, competition, and rights in a context of climate change toward equitable water governance in Peru’s Rio Santa Valley. Global Environmental Change 22(2): 364373.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oré, María Teresa, and Laureano del Castillo. 2006. La legislación de aguas en el Perú. Lima, Perú (working paper).

  • Oré, María Teresa, Laureano del Castillo, Saskia Van Orsel, and Jeroen Vos. 2009. El agua, ante nuevos desafíos: Actores e iniciativas en Ecuador, Perú y Bolivia. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oré, María Teresa, and Edwin Rap. 2009. Políticas neoliberales de agua en el Perú: Antecedentes y entretelones de la ley de recursos hídricos. Debates en Sociología 34: 3266.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Otter, Chris. 2010. Locating matter: The place of materiality in urban history. In Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce, eds., Material powers: Cultural studies, history, and the material turn, pp. 3859. London: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pærregaard, Karsten, Astrid Bredholt Stensrud, and Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen. Water citizenship. Negotiating water rights and contesting water culture in the Peruvian Andes. Accepted, Latin American Research Review, 2016.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Zeballos, Carlos Renzo. 2006. Evaluation of the characteristics of urban landscape development in Arequipa from 1868 to 1940. PhD diss., Graduate School of Engineering, Kyoto University.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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