Presentation at the AAG conference in Los Angeles (April 2013)

I’ll be heading to L.A. for the annual American Association of Geographers‘ conference this April. I’m looking forward to two specific activities. First, I will present a paper on the relationship between water and food production in Bangladesh. This paper is already drafted, and I think does a good job of integrating quantitative data from the FAO with my own qualitative data (the abstract is below). Second, I will participate in a panel discussion on the topic of risk and marginality – details to follow.

I look forward to engaging with other AAG participants. Please get in touch if you’d like to meet for a discussion or drink.

Water and Food in Bangladesh: swinging between opposing knowledge claims and the controversy over what should be done

For this paper I combine publicly available quantitative data from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) with qualitative data from interviews with influential individuals in Bangladesh. These data sets are shown to be complementary, though the qualitative findings offer a substantially more pessimistic interpretation of future water and food management than is implied by the quantitative data.

The interview data helps to define periods within the FAO data based on an accumulation of technological innovations: beginning with flood control, adding irrigation, and later adding high-yielding varieties of rice. These periods are then used to explain the polarisation of opinions that populate current debates over water and food in Bangladesh, leading to my interpretation of the water-food relationship as a post-normal problem (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993). For example, the periods help to contextualise the ‘polarised-and-fluctuating’ debate over the protection of agriculture from floods.

My reinterpretation of Bangladesh’s water-food history adds to debates over water/food security by showing how both Boserup– and Malthus-inspired analyses are accurate (Turner and Ali 1996): necessity has successfully driven innovation, though a collapse remains probable given current trends. Unfortunately, the analysis also shows that the benefits of technological innovations have been ‘consumed’ by population growth and development, leaving fewer options for Bangladesh as it struggles to meet food demands. In terms of post-normal problems, the research helps to explain: 1) why more knowledge can make controversies less clear and 2) how an emphasis on context can help differentiate competing knowledge claims.


Water; Flood; Food; Bangladesh; Controversy; Knowledge; Post-normal; Security; Sustainable

Funtowicz, S. O. and Ravetz, J. R. 1993. Science for the post-normal age. Futures 25(7): 739-755.
 Turner, B. L. and Ali, A. M. S. 1996. Induced intensification: Agricultural change in Bangladesh with implications for Malthus and Boserup. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 93(25): 14984-14991.

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