Andrea Ballestero

My work looks at the unexpected ethical and technical entanglements through which experts understand water in Latin America. I am particularly interested in spaces where the law, economics and techno-science are so fused that they appear as one another. In recent years I have been following the paths of water pricing in Costa Rica, bureaucratic care for water in Brazil, and traveling water knowledge throughout Latin America.
I am currently involved in three interrelated projects. First, I am researching how the difference between a human right and a commodity is produced in regulatory and governance spaces that purport to be open to different forms of knowledge and promote flexibility and experimentation. I have worked with regulators, policy-makers, and NGOs in Costa Rica, Brazil and Sweden where I have been tracing how technical decisions embody these moral distinctions and pose questions about the foundations of liberal capitalist societies.
A second line of research is concerned with the different forms in which profits and wealth are imagined and regulated in Latin America. This project looks at the technical and affective making of profits (legal and illegal), their changing legitimacy, and the associated technologies involved in their production, regulation, and control.
Finally, I am developing a new line of research that takes the material qualities of water as heuristics through which the politics of the non-living can be examined. Developing in collaboration with Valerie Olson from UC-Irvine this line of research is concerned with the limits of “life” and “bio” as markers of worth. I am interested in charting what might lie beyond the living and how would anthropological inquiry shift if the horizons of value are placed beyond life. This project grows from the ubiquity with which I encountered the phrase “Water is Life” during fieldwork. Hence, it is also an experiment on divergent relationships between knowledge, informants, and ethnographer in contemporary techno-capitalist settings.
At Rice I also run the Ethnography Studio, an interdisciplinary experimental space that brings together students and faculty interested in the peculiarities of ethnography as a textual form, as a research strategy and as a modality of knowledge production. The Studio is structured as a space where intellectual labor grows out of generosity, rigor, and collaboration.