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Life as Debt or Debt to Life? Water Insurgencies in Europe - Andrea Muehlebach

Andrea Muehlbach
Monday, March 20, 2023, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Organized by the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology CEU in collaboration with the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna and the Institute of Social Anthropology at the Austrian Academy of Sciences

This talk explores several kinds of debt – and several kinds of forms of valuation – that come into play as public water utilities are privatized and financialized. On the one hand, the financialization of water utilities and infrastructures set in motion a politics of frantic municipal debt repayment; as infrastructures become financial assets, they also become vehicles for the measure of future financial returns that hinge on the calculation of the cost of capital. On the other hand, the financialization of water infrastructures also almost inevitably provokes a very different calculus of debt – that of debt to life. Here, water movements in Germany, Italy, Ireland, and beyond articulate a very different kind of value – an incalculable, that is to say transcendent value that derives from all of life’s indebtedness to water. My goal is to offer a glimpse of how this debt to life articulates with and constantly pushes against the ways in which neoliberalism seeks to extract value from life and to financialze value as such.

Andrea Muehlebach is a Professor of Maritime Anthropology and Cultures of Water at the University of Bremen in Germany. Her forthcoming book ("A Vital Frontier: Water Insurgencies in Europe," April 2023, Duke University Press) is an exploration of European water movements´ struggles against the privatization and financialization of water.


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