WATEAU Fabienne

Regional fields

Portugal, Spain, Europe, the Portuguese-speaking world

Thematic fields

conflicts and social order, spaces and politics, cognition and measurement, objects and societies, environment and sustainability


irrigation, water, dam, borders, material and immaterial culture, measurements, cognition, recomposition of territory

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Cleaning irrigation channels,
northwest Portugal, 1992
(photo F. Wateau)

Fabienne Wateau has been associate researcher at the CNRS since 2001. She was a member of the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid (1997-1999), deputy director of the Institute for Archaeology and Ethnology René-Ginouvès in Nanterre (Maison de l’archéologie et de l’ethnologie René-Ginouvès, 2008-2011) and coordinator of the PhD student exchange program with the University of Chicago and the University of Massachusetts Boston (2010-2012). She is a member of several scientific committees and review committees for French, Portuguese and Spanish journals (Ateliers d’anthropologie, Arquivos da Memória, Ankulegi, Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez), and she teaches in the Department of Ethnology at the University of Paris West Nanterre La Défense and at the Musée du quai Branly (since 2006).

Her PhD thesis, completed in 1996, aimed to address a paradox: why are there conflicts over water in regions were water abounds? By choosing northwest Portugal’s wet Rio Minho valley, where rural communities have been practicing irrigation for centuries, she went against the usual techno-economic approaches that posit the scarcity of the resource as the major cause of conflicts, and showed how seasonal, regular altercations contributed in this case to maintaining, perpetuating and modernising the society under study. When Portugal and Spain entered the European union in 1986, she also witnessed the initial effects of European Community agricultural policy in this cross-border valley, namely the rapid recomposition of minifundia and irrigated mixed food farming areas into a market economy based on unirrigated single-crop vine farming.

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But where will my house be in the new village?, southeast Portugal, 2001 (photo F. Wateau)

The subjects she has been studying since then include: the effects of the construction of a dam in an arid latifundia region in southeast Portugal, which caused a village to be submerged; the reorganisation of social spaces and relationships at different levels (local, regional, national, binational between Portugal and Spain, European); and the continuous readjustment of identity discourse. Having had the opportunity to follow the inhabitants of a village before, during and after the construction of the dam, she is analysing the public participation processes used and the reactions of its representatives, as well as the evolution of what was a large investment for the Alentejo region, the country and for neighbouring Spain.

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Sharing out water using a reed stick,
northwest Portugal, 2005 (photo F. Wateau)

Fabienne Wateau is also studying the world of the objects that make up our societies. She is researching metric and non-metric measurement systems on the Iberian peninsula, focusing on water measurement instruments and other objects that divide up time, space, commodities and resources. She examines the differences and similarities in methods of counting, deducting or classifying, to show representation rationales and compare thought patterns. This opens the door to questions about the sustainability of certain ancient water sharing and distribution systems.

Principal publications

  • 2014, «Querem fazer um mar…». Ensaio sobre a barragem de Alqueva e a aldeia submersa da Luz (Lisboa, ICS).
  • 2014, Dam Projects and Protest: the Exception of Alqueva (Portugal), in Graciela Schneier-Madanes (ed.), Globalized water: A question of governance, Chap. 12, Springer: 161-173.
  • 2012, Compter et conter. Ou comment les mathématiques, les histoires et les mesures se mêlent et s’emmêlent pour faire culture, in Ana Paula Guimarães (ed.), Contas, contos, cantos e que mais (Lisboa, Gradiva): 10-22 [HAL].
  • 2011, Water, societies and sustainability: A few anthropological examples of non-market water values, Policy and Society, 30 (4): 257–265.
  • 2011 ed., Profils d’objets. Approches d’anthropologues et d’archéologues (Paris, Éditions De Boccard).
  • 2010 eds (with P. Rouillard), L’objet de main en main [special issue], Mélanges de la Casa de Velázquez, 40 (1) NS.
  • 2010, Contester un barrage: anthropologie d’un processus de gestion sociale à Alqueva (Portugal)», in G. Schneier-Madanes (ed.), L’eau mondialisée: la gouvernance en question, (Paris, La Découverte): 271–284.
  • 2008, Reproduire un village à l’identique: Alqueva, in N. Blanc and S. Bonnin (eds), Grands barrages et habitants. Les effets sociaux du développement (Paris, QUAE and MSH): 77–99 [Natures sociales].
  • 2006 eds (with P. Cressier), Le partage de l’eau (Espagne, Portugal, Maroc) [special issue, El reparto del agua, España, Portugal, Marruecos], Mélanges de la Casa de Velásquez, 36 (2) NS.
  • 2002, Partager l’eau: irrigation et conflits au nord-ouest du Portugal (Paris, CNRS Éditions/Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme).


Publications available at the Éric-de-Dampierre library


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Mis à jour le 7 October 2015

Directeur de recherche, CNRS
[Research Professor CNRS]