Art @ Agnes Scott College

State of the arts at ASC and around Atlanta — from students' perspectives!

Talking Water, Talking Constructs (and The Taboo Question)

At the Talking Water event last week, visiting Professor of Biology Dr. Joanne Chu brought up the notion of how our reality is shaped by our language. In other words, how the very words we choose to communicate with essentially create meaning as their use (and the limitations of their use) shape and inform our perception of various people and events.

Case in point: The term “Water Wars” is often thrown around in describing the current conflict over water resources between Georgia, Alabama and Florida (not to mention a number of other places around the world). In fact, Linda Armstrong’s installation piece goes by that very title (pictured above, and currently up in the Still Water exhibit), and the work’s name is derived from the many headlines detailing these conflicts occurring all over the globe.

Based upon the concept of the linguistic construct, or the theory that the very words we choose to describe a situation impact the way in which we understand and deal with that situation, Dr. Chu posed the following questions: What if our governing bodies were female-lead? Would this change the way we understood and dealt with this conflict? (Would it even be considered a conflict?)

Perhaps surprisingly for an all-female institution of higher education, the response of the audience seemed to be largely one of doubt, silence, and a good part resistance.

While we may acknowledge that to simply say “A woman would have done it differently,” would be a generalization, and does little to explain the how and why of the matter, it remains for me an interesting and exciting mental exercise to wonder, “How might a woman (or any individual with historically less political sway than the average white, male, upper-class politician), approach this issue?”

(I don’t mean to diss white, male, upper-class folks here, only to consider the potential benefit of heteroglossia within our political system.)

So, would a female governor handle the current water situation differently? Depends on the individual woman, right? Myself, I think that we could definitely benefit from framing this issue differently. We know we have one watershed, and we have to learn how to share it between three states. Let’s start there: SHARE. How can the governors of each of these states hold their citizenry more accountable for their own personal water use? Educate us on the fact that our individual water usage doesn’t just impact our water bill, but a community of people spread across three states? Do we really need to be pitted against our friends and family across state lines in claiming that our water needs are truly higher, more dire?



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One Response

  1. digitaldesignfellow says:

    Oivia, I’m glad you wrote about this because that question lingered with me, too. I agree that we shouldn’t generalize when thinking about what a woman would do, but maybe as the women leaders we already are, we can throw out our own alternative terminology. Instead of calling it “water wars,” what could we say?

    I didn’t have any ideas off the top of my head, but I just looked up “war” at and clicked on the antonym “peace.” It’s interesting to think about the connotations of these word combinations:

    water agreement
    water harmony
    water friendship
    water union
    water reserve (with the double meaning!)

    or with synonyms for “share”:

    water portion
    water allotment
    water contribution
    water interest
    water heritage

    water piece/peace

    interesting how we conceive the issue differently with those words, isn’t it?

    thanks for your post!


    P.S. this picture does make the water guns look like candy! how fun 🙂

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