Tag Archives: Environmental Studies

The Lived Experience of Water

Recently released from UTP, The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice is an edited collection that reminds us of our primordial belonging to and need for water – a relation so essential that it is often taken for granted in policy development and decision making. The chapters are written by some of the world’s leading phenomenological thinkers who tackle subjects from flow motions to urban river restoration.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic

If you are like most people, you will have begun your day by brushing your teeth, flushing a toilet, washing your hands and face and, then, tea or coffee was probably a necessary part of your breakfast. As you moved through these morning activities, you will have taken for granted the fact that safe and secure water was ready and available.

For many of us in the developed world, that ready availability of water is accepted on a pre-thematic level: it is only when the water is turned off that we explicitly realize how vital it is to our existence. As others have said, try going three days without water to recognize its ontological value.

The Wonder of Water: Lived Experience, Policy, and Practice, brings together thinkers who are attuned to the fundamental importance of water to our embodied lives. They each hope to shed some light on the fact that our water policies and practices should be informed not simply by abstract principles but by that deep need that we each have, as beings composed 60% of water, of this basic, life-giving liquid.

Certainly, it is important that rational thinking and evidence-based science inform decisions and policy making around water. Many books on water ethics and water security do an excellent job at covering complex policy issues. However, The Wonder of Water uniquely argues that we need to ensure that the deeply personal, embodied, imaginative, ontological interpretations of the value of water equally inform policy conversations.

Consider, for instance, how every day the news media highlights the growing risks of climate change to our health and to the well-being of the planet. Fewer and fewer skeptics deny the anthropogenic causes of climate warming and, increasingly, there are calls for substantive policy change in favour of more sustainable lifestyle choices.

Whether manifested through more serious droughts or deadly floods or rising sea levels, the reality is, as UN Water pointed out in 2019, that “water is the primary medium through which we will feel the effects of climate change.” Moreover, “the world is on the brink of a deadly crisis, as the combination of water stress and climate change creates a dangerous outlook for children.”[1] UNICEF recounts the stories of 12-year-old Swapna who, after Cyclone Roanu hit Bangladesh, returned home to find her neighbourhood, including all the trees, gone; or how a father in Zimbabwe, struggling to feed his family after a severe drought, was forced to sell his daughter for a few goats. In Canada, we have whole communities operating on boil water advisories. And then there is the reality that every day, over 800 children die from preventable diseases caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation.[2]

Our book is meant to remind us that each of these lives, and others like them, are at risk and, consequently, meaningful policy changes cannot wait. Climate deniers and environmental skeptics should be invited to look each of these children in the eyes and ask themselves whether these children’s everyday embodied pain and suffering do not matter. “Policies” and regulations affect real lives. They are not simply articles of debate for conferences or international meetings. Rather, the urgency of enacting water policies that are effective and comprehensive comes from the realization that individual lives, emotions, physical health, and happiness are affected by high-powered decisions that themselves must be meaningfully informed by the lived repercussions of those policy choices.

Certainly, environmental decision making should be informed by statistics and quantitative data. Our point is, however, that a different kind of thinking – one that is less calculative and more originative, discerning, and perhaps reflecting even a kind of poetic sensibility toward individual human experiences – needs to drive policy making.

So, Part One of the book aims to remind us of what the lived experience of water might mean, not only in terms of human priorities but also relating to non-human animals and the breathing planet. Part Two shows us how water defines place, not simply as a geographical location but as the embodied projection of human understanding of the world in which we find ourselves. Part Three offers examples of how policies and decisions arise in different communities that are informed by diverse practices and ethical perspectives. The book begins and ends with poetic reflections, reminding us that policies must be driven not only by calculation but by mindful, discerning commitment to our embodied, revered, existential experiences of water.

Overall, the book invites the reader to re-engage with the lived experience and wonder of water, not only because human rights demand safe water or the benefits outweigh the costs of providing water security, but because, simply put, without water, there is no life. This fact we can never take for granted.

***

To read an excerpt from The Wonder of Water, click here.


Ingrid Leman Stefanovic is Dean of the Faculty of Environment and professor in the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University. She is also a professor emerita in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

[1] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/waterandclimate/

[2] Please see https://www.unicef.org/wash/

 

 

A Brief History of UTP Higher Education

The Higher Education Division of UTP is quickly approaching its fifth anniversary, and in advance of this hallmark, we will be contributing monthly blog postings on the purpose and various functions of our division. Our first five years have been set amidst a background of rapidly changing technologies and shifts in the needs of teachers and scholars, and we would like to contribute our voices to the wider conversation—starting with our Vice-President, Michael Harrison, on how a Canadian university press ventured into textbook publishing in a serious way.

In May 2008, the University of Toronto Press broadened its well established scholarly book program to include a greater capacity for books intended for course use. As Canada’s most venerable English language university press, UTP has long been a leading presence in Canadian-based English language scholarly publishing. Although the press has often published works that enjoy considerable success in the classroom, this success has largely been tangential to the primary mission to publish the results of research excellence in the humanities and social sciences.

Those of us involved in UTP’s new “Higher Education” division are aiming for something a little different. Higher Education was founded on the acquisition of various lists from Broadview Press, amounting to over 300 titles—and the bringing over of several experienced Broadview staff members, including Anne Brackenbury and Natalie Fingerhut (Acquiring Editors), Michelle Lobkowicz and Anna Del Col (respectively, Sales and Marketing Managers) —and me. Others, including Beate Schwirtlich who manages our Production, Mat Buntin (Senior Publisher’s Representative), Kris Gies and Mike Byer (both Publisher’s Representatives), have joined us since. All of us continue to work from an office in Guelph originally opened by Broadview.

Although UTP is quite a different place than Broadview Press, Higher Education carries on an approach long taken by Broadview Press (and in my own case, before that at McClelland and Stewart). Like Broadview, Higher Education finds itself competing against far larger textbook publishers such as Pearson, Nelson, Oxford, Cambridge, Palgrave, McGraw-Hill,  Routledge, Norton, etc., as well as more “scholarly” presses such as UBC Press, McGill-Queen’s—and in some ways, our colleagues in UTP Scholarly Publishing. Lacking the resources of all of these more established presses, it has been necessary to develop a competing “story.” “The Little Engine That Could” comes to mind.

Measured against older houses our story also sounds like a line from Stuart McLean—“we may not be big, but we’re small!” We publish fewer titles per year which means we can devote greater marketing attention per book—and authors are not overlooked because their market is deemed economically less important. Beyond our core subject areas—History, Politics, Anthropology, and Sociology—the titles we publish serve audiences sometimes pushed to the side by the larger text houses, taking us into communities such as Latin American Studies, North American Studies, Peace and Conflict Studies, Women’s Studies, Indigenous Studies, History of Science, Ethnography, Social Work, Environmental Studies, and many more. We believe Higher Education’s list of course books, combined with the rich publishing offerings of UTP’s Scholarly Publishing Division, places the press second to none in Medieval Studies.

We take care to cover a broader curriculum, enthusiastically taking on upper level course books, as well as those intended to serve often more lucrative introductory levels. However, we prefer the notion that textbooks should make a meaningful scholarly, as well as pedagogical, contribution. A survey “textbook” and a scholarly monograph are two different things, but they should both make an intellectual contribution.

It’s easy to be jaded (“students today…”) but could it be that students have a better chance of being stimulated when encouraged to consider a challenging thesis, rather than simply a review of the agreed upon “facts” and the lists of “points on the exam”? Is it possible that a really good “textbook” presents material in a way that neither students nor their professors have considered before? Can textbook authors be allowed “authority”? And looked at another way, could it be that the results of something worth researching are also worth presenting to as wide a scholarly audience as possible, including undergraduates? Sometimes, these books actually sell pretty well!

We’re by no means alone but those of us in UTP Higher Education prefer to be inspired by publishing values like these—and to publish books by authors who are inspired by them. Some great examples that we have published in the past five years include A Short History of the Middle Ages, The Promise of Sociology, A History of Science in Society, Trickster, Wasase, The Labyrinth of North American Identities, The Shock of War, Lament for America, and many more… all available at prices that students can afford!

-Michael Harrison, Vice-President