I do anthropological research about how landscapes and livelihoods in southern Ukraine have been transforming as a result of expanding environmental regulation and conflicts over water-related infrastructure. This has involved conducting 10 months of ethnographic research over eight years with gardeners, fishermen, scientists, environmental activists, Biosphere Reserve administrators and state officials about their changing relationships with wetland ecologies in the Danube Delta and along the Black Sea coast.
I initially focused my research on the Ukrainian portion of the Danube Delta because of the international media attention the area received in 2003-4 when the Ukrainian government decided to build a shipping canal through the middle of a core zone of the UNESCO Danube Biosphere Reserve. Once on the ground though, my attention was drawn to a regional environmental controversy over the dismantling of a large Soviet-built irrigation project. In the late 1970s, this irrigation system diverted Danube water to the steppe to increase agricultural productivity, but instead it degraded land and created a large lagoon.
My findings have been published in an article entitled, “Objecting (to) Infrastructure: Ecopolitics at the Ukrainian Ends of the Danube,” as part of a special issue of the journal Science as Culture on infrastructuring environments. My paper asks why the shipping canal and irrigation system persist in the Ukrainian Danube even though neither infrastructure functions effectively and both have been challenged by environmental activists. While the two infrastructure projects differ in terms of the scale of environmental transformation and conflicts they have provoked, neither has been dismantled and both retain state funding.
I analyze infrastructure not as fixed hardware but as a process. This means that I pay attention to extensive networks of experts, technical systems, biologies and earth systems and treat non-humans as political actors. I argue that the confluence of the material agency of sediments, currents, toxins and pipes, and the politics of expert knowledge have enabled Danube-related shipping and irrigation infrastructures to bureaucratically re-embed themselves, and to persist.
I have also conducted research on people’s relationships with feral cows, fish and honeybees in the Danube Delta. This has led me to develop a new research project on agrobiodiversity in Ukraine with a focus on Ukrainian honeybee breeding. My new project will investigate the practical, environmental and political economic challenges of maintaining these honeybee breeds in the contemporary geopolitical context.
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