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WIRC Water Colloquium

Our WIRC Water Colloquium is back with two speakers, Helen James and Dr Joe Williams, followed by discussion.

  • 17 Apr 2023, 1.15pm to 17 Apr 2023, 2.15pm BST (GMT +01:00)
  • Chancellors' Building, 4.10, University of Bath
  • This event is free

We're welcoming Helen James, PhD researcher at Durham University, and Dr Joe Williams, Lecturer in Human Geography at Cardiff University to give two talks on their research. The session will be hosted and chaired by Dr Alejandro De Cross-Corzo and/or Dr Tom Arnot.

Talk summaries

A 'new' water: the role of desalination in the 21st century

This talk will explore the extraordinary emergence of desalination as an increasingly important source of unconventional or ‘new’ water, and how this technology is transforming the practices, politics and political economy of water in the 21st century. Desalination has long been a focus of research in techno-managerial and techno-triumphalist circles. But as global capacity has grown and as new water infrastructures have developed in more diverse and contested contexts, it has increasingly attracted political debate.

This talk will challenge dominant and reductionist explanations of the desalination phenomenon that highlight water scarcity as an external factor, population growth and industrialisation. Instead, it will foreground alternative explanations for the extraordinary growth of desalination, focusing particularly on its role as a source of reliable long-term revenue for increasingly financialised, commercialised and privatised models of water service provision.

What about breakdown, labour and repair? Sensor-based solutions to leakage reduction in UK water infrastructure

This talk explores the logics and motivations behind the decisions to deploy sensor-based solutions to the complex problem of potable water leaks in UK water infrastructure. Drawing on interviews and ethnographic research with English water infrastructure operational and financial actors, this talk argues that the more mundane prevention and repair work needed to reduce present-day water loss is obscured by the future fantasies embedded in sensor-based solutions.

On the one hand, sensor-based solutions offer enticing futuristic fixes to the complexity of leakage and are more likely to secure internal support and additional funding to deploy. On the other hand, the technology is not ready for the present, fails to address some of the significant causes of water loss and encourages disinvestment in more immediately impactful but less futuristic visionary routes to leakage reduction. The broad aim of this talk is to promote a deeper consideration of the (dis)connections between innovative techno-solutions and the more-mundane practices connected to labour and the operations of infrastructural breakdown and repair.


Helen James

Helen James is a PhD researcher at Durham University. Her research aims to illuminate the role of financial flows and logics in shaping responses to the breakdown and degradation of infrastructure. Her PhD is examining the intersection of finance with digital responses to clean water leakage in UK infrastructure. Before starting her PhD journey, Helen was the Founder and Director of an education research company.

Dr Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a Lecturer in Human Geography at Cardiff University. His research aims to understand the changing relationships between environment and society. Joe’s main areas of interest are in urban political ecology, the politics of water and energy infrastructure, and global development and environment. Before joining Cardiff, Joe held positions at Durham University and the University of Bristol.


Our seminar will take place on campus.

Chancellors' Building, 4.10 University of Bath Claverton Down Bath BA2 7AY United Kingdom

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