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Making water into a political material: the case of PET bottles

  • Economics
  • Political Science


a44306 2001..2006 Making water into a political material: the case of PET bottles I want to think about how the ubiquitous commodity `bottled water' makes water into a political material. This is one of the driving questions of Plastic Water, a book I am currently writing with two colleagues Emily Potter and Kane Race. In approaching this question there are already a lot of answers. The bottling of water in single-serve disposable containers has generated significant economic effects in the form of new markets and profits for beverage companies and, in some places, significant political effects in the form of vigorous contestation of these markets and their impacts on natural resources and public water provision (cf Clarke, 2008). However, the challenge for our project is to understand this economy ^ politics relation beyond the logics of critique or corporate intentionality. Unlike the activist literature on bottled water, our concern is not so much with the determining role of beverage companies in producing an exploitative industry and problematic commodity. Rather, it is with the ways in which plastic PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and water have established relations of reciprocal influence or distinct alliances that have worked to mutually enhance their performative agency and capacities: economic, political, and more. While the critical and activist literature has very effectively documented the patterns of bottled water market growth, increasing concentration in the industry, gross exploitation of water sources, manipulation of consumers, growth in plastics waste, and more, it tends to locate causation in the power of the corporation and the relentless economic logic of capital accumulation. In this framework political action is positioned in a relation of opposition to the market and operates to expose and critique its negative effects. Equally problematic is the way in which the PET bottle is reduced to an object with an unfolding logic already within it: the container is

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