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Pluriversal waters: Tracing hydro-ontologies across colonial-extractivist assemblages

Tampere University
Duration of project1.5.2024–30.6.2028

This research project analyses different ways of being (with), governing, and exploiting water in the contexts of colonial extractivisms and seeks ways to rethink water from decolonial, relational, and ecological perspectives. The research project departs from Latin American studies on decolonizing water and seeks to enrich the scholarship on water ontologies from the contexts of Global North (Northern Europe) and Global East (Central Asia). The project inquires into colonial-extractivist practices of water exploitation through case studies of 1) mining and related to it water degradation in Northern Finland and 2) extractivist practices in the Aral Sea in the Karakalpakstan autonomous region of Uzbekistan.In order to analyze the ways in which water is governed, exploited, and lived with, this research project applies three interconnected concepts: hydro-ontology, pluriversality, and assemblage. Colonial-extractivist regimes of political and economic governance are analyzed as assemblages, i.e. the mechanisms of power composed of human and non-human elements, e.g. water, land, humans, water management regulations, national laws, and resource extraction and production companies. The concept of pluriversality aims to capture different ontological projects of these actors in relation to water, hydro-ontologies. In order to pay attention to the entangled ontological realities and different ways of being with water, this research utilizes non-local ethnography. Moreover, the research project collaborates with the visual artists in analyzing, producing, and communicating the research topic and results.



Despite the centrality of water in the context of ecological crisis recognized internationally in the policy world, water is continued to be theorized and acted upon through the anthropocentric and exploitative logics. Modern ontological and epistemic approaches towards water are shaped by the determinism of neoliberal capitalism, the monoculture of Eurocentric science and the anthropocentric-patriarchal domination of nature. In modern times, water has been separated from its relation to the land, humans, and other species and become a commodity or a resource to manage. In the recent years, due to the growing needs of the industries, the extraction and use of raw materials, including water, has been rising globally along with its detrimental environmental effects. Moreover, as scholars argue, such processes of advancing extractive capital have generated a new dynamic of colonial development. Although colonial oppression of humans, land and water have been contested, many continue to be severely affected by development projects causing environmental conflicts worldwide. As awareness of the unsustainability of the current political and economic models increases, researchers call to better understand the “problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination” and “to think about water with a new sense of urgency” in its relation to the livelihoods of human communities as well as other species.


This research project departs from studies on decolonizing water and seeks to enrich the scholarship on water ontologies from the contexts of Global North (Northern Europe) and Global East (Central Asia) which have received less scholarly attention on colonial extractivisms. The perspective from the Global East is especially lacking, and the scholars have also called for research which problematize East/West binary by analyzing the multiple relations between them. Thus, placing water in the center of the analysis, this research project analyzes the workings of hegemonic ontologies of water exploitation and the possibilities for “new stories for the earthy survivals” in two contexts of colonial extractivisms: Northern Finland and the Aral Sea.

Therefore, the research project has 4 research goals:

  • to analyze how water is understood and acted upon by different agents (states, industries, eco-activists, and local communities of humans and non-humans) in Northern Finland and Aral Sea;
  • to map hydro-ontologies of colonial-extractivist assemblages across the East/West binary;
  • to illuminate the decolonial and restorative hydro-ontologies in the contexts of Northern Finland and Aral Sea;
  • to explore the agentic capabilities of water to sustain or subverse the colonial-extractivist assemblages.


Kone Foundation



Artist Natalia Batrakova