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Sclerotic and Conflictual Ontologies of Nature, by Luisa Cortesi

Monday, November 11, 2019 at 12:15pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

How do people who live in the midst of floods think about water? Informed by multidisciplinary long-term ethnographic fieldwork, this presentation presents ethnographic evidence that, in North Bihar, land and water are thought of as in intimate correspondence with each other. By virtue of comparison, then, the ethnographic encounter is held to defy other ontologies of water that see the two substances as in opposition. Since ontologies of natural substances are often “watertight”, mutually exclusive and unable to adapt, this presentation suggests, their encounter may result in semiotic conflict.

Dr. Luisa Cortesi (PhD Anthropology, Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale) is the Taylor Stanford Postdoctoral Fellow in STS and Anthropology at Cornell University. Since 2007 Luisa works in North Bihar, India, an area known for its recurrent and increasingly disastrous floods and toxic drinking water, where she investigates how people learn from increasingly difficult environmental conditions, in particular from disastrous water. Her approach combines environmental anthropology and studies of sciences and technology, with the natural sciences of water, philosophy, and linguistics. Prior to her PhD, Luisa served as a water expert for the United Nations and for several NGOs in India and in Sub-saharan Africa, and she continues to serve as a pro-bono advisor for NGOs and governmental organization on issues of water and development. 

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, South Asia Program, Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies


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Gloria Lemus-Chavez

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Luisa Cortesi

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Wheelchair accessible from Tower Road, and from the back of the building across The Statler Hotel. For additional requests please email

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