The Moral Economy of Water: Equity and Antiquity in the Andean Commons

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Abstract

This article focuses on irrigation and water use in a community in the Peruvian Andes, one of numerous villages in the region where these activities are carried out in an unusual way. The practices and principles that make up this tradition, defining the rights and duties of community members in making use of the resource most vital for life, are identified and evaluated based on comparative ethnographic research. It is argued that they provide a highly effective way of managing a scarce and fluctuating resource that is held in common, an older Andean tradition that may have been adopted by the Incas and endorsed as an official policy—all of which might help to account for its wide distribution in the region today. In this particular case, the principles help to create an extraordinary kind of community, a transparent and equitable one in which a basic material symmetry or proportionality is expressed at many levels. This symmetry is closely related to other basic commonalities among community members, but of particular interest are its effects on social solidarity and cooperation and its association with a strong sense of ethnic identity. The implications of this tradition for solving contemporary problems in water management are also briefly discussed, [sociocultural anthropology, irrigation, Andes, common-property]

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