A community of fear: emotion and the hydro-social cycle in East Porterville, California

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Broader governance challenges driving water insecurity globally are well documented inthe literature, however the power-laden relationships and emotions that shape water access at the household and community levels are yet to be fully investigated, especially in the context of water consolidation projects. In this article, we examine the role of emotions in mediating access to water and in the production of resource struggles among marginalized communities,existing outside of conventional regulatory frameworks. We bring together two relational approaches – the hydro-social cycle and emotional political ecology – to examine water insecurity and how it manifests in the historically disadvantaged Latinx community of East Porterville, California; an unincorporated community faced with seven years of prolonged drought and widespread dry wells. Findings from qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with residents and local experts and participant observation revealed that the emotions of fear, suffering, embarrassment, shame, and compassion facilitated the reproduction of water insecurity in certain households while engendering access in others. Social hierarchy and horizontal relationships mattered, particularly in how emotions were mobilized and contested and the effects they produced for households. Furthermore, this article shows that water struggles and solutions are emotional processes with political and livelihood implications and thus require attention beyond engineering solutions.

Keywords: water security, emotional political ecology, California, hydro-social cycle, resource access

How to Cite: Egge, M. & Ajibade, I. (2021) “A community of fear: emotion and the hydro-social cycle in East Porterville, California”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: