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Sustaining Communities with a Scarce Resource: Bottled Water in Fiji and New York

August 12, 2010
Date: Tuesday, 17 August 2010
Time: 9:30am to 11:00am
Venue: ESI Conference Room
29 Heng Mui Keng Terrace
Block A #10-01
Singapore 119620
ESI and the NUS SouthEast Asian Studies Programme announce a joint
seminar featuring Dr. Martha Kaplan, Professor of Anthropology and Director
of the Program in Asian Studies at Vassar College, New York, speaking on
”Sustaining Communities with a Scarce Resource: Bottled Water in Fiji and
New York.” Dr. Goh Beng Lan, Associate Professor, Southeast Asian Studies
Programme, NUS will chair the morning’s session and moderate the Q&A
session to follow Prof. Kaplan’s talk. Prof. Michael Quah Cheng Guan,
Principal Fellow & Chief Scientist, ESI will give a short introduction highlight-
ing the energy-water nexus before Prof. Kaplan’s talk.
About the Seminar

For more than a decade a North American company has bottled and exported water from Fiji. Its major market is the US. In Fiji, what has been the social impact of this enterprise? In the US, a country with a safe and economical public water supply, why do people buy Fijian water, and why do they buy so much bottled water in general? Recent authors have described US bottled water purchase as irrational. There are indeed good reasons to see global marketing of spring water as environmentally unsustainable.
But anthropological field research in Fiji and in New York, examining both corporate marketing and local opinions and practices, shows that the social effects of water bottling are highly complex. In Fiji, diverse local reactions challenge—but also sustain–the bottling process. In the US, motives for water purchase are also complex and diverse, and sometimes surprising. While many observers have emphasized the unsustainable contemporary “bottlemania,” this paper looks at a wider range of water practices and their social consequences.
About the Speaker

Professor Martha Kaplan, Department of Anthropology Vassar College

Martha Kaplan is Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Program in Asian Studies at Vassar College, New York. Her research focuses on the intersection of ritual, symbolism and colonial and postcolonial politics, including field and archival studies in Fiji, England, India, and the US. She is the author of Neither Cargo Nor Cult: Ritual Politics and the Colonial Imagination in Fiji (Duke University Press 1995) and Represented Communities: Fiji and World Decolonization (co-authored with John D Kelly, University of Chicago Press 2001). Her recent research focuses on social impacts of bottled water as a global commodity, including articles on “Local Politics and a Global Commodity: Fijian Water in Fiji and New York” (Cultural Anthropology 2007) and a forthcoming study of US drinking-water technologies “Lonely Drinking Fountains and Comforting Coolers: Paradoxes of Water Value and Ironies of Water Use” (forthcoming in Cultural Anthropology) .

Those interested my register here.
For queries, please contact Jan Lui at 65162000.

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