Household water sharing: A review of water gifts, exchanges, and other transfers across cultures

Amber Wutich, Jessica Budds, Wendy Jepson, Leila Harris, Ellis Adams, Alexandra Brewis, Lee Cronk, Christine DeMyers, Kenneth Maes, Tennille Marley, Joshua Miller, Amber Pearson, Asher Rosinger, Roseanne Schuster, Justin Stoler, Chad Staddon, Polly Wiessner, Cassandra Workman, Sera Young

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59 Citations (Scopus)
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Water sharing offers insight into the everyday and, at times, invisible ties that bind people and households with water and to one another. Water sharing can take many forms, including so‐called “pure gifts,” balanced exchanges, and negative reciprocity. In this study, we examine water sharing between households as a culturally embedded practice that may be both need‐based and symbolically meaningful. Drawing on a wide‐ranging review of diverse literatures, we describe how households practice water sharing cross‐culturally in the context of four livelihood strategies (hunter‐gatherer, pastoralist, agricultural, and urban). We then explore how cross‐cutting material conditions (risks and costs/benefits, infrastructure and technologies), socioeconomic processes (social and political power, water entitlements, ethnicity and gender, territorial sovereignty), and cultural norms (moral economies of water, water ontologies, and religious beliefs) shape water sharing practices. Finally, we identify five new directions for future research on water sharing: conceptualization of water sharing; exploitation and status accumulation through water sharing, biocultural approaches to the health risks and benefits of water sharing, cultural meanings and socioeconomic values of waters shared; and water sharing as a way to enact resistance and build alternative economies.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1309
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Issue number6
Early online date7 Sep 2018
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018


  • exchange
  • gift
  • household
  • reciprocity
  • sharing

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