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Visualizing the Invisible: Monitoring and Governing Groundwater in Postwar Taiwan

Advisor : 洪廣冀



Parallel abstracts

Groundwater is an important water source in Taiwan and contributes to more than 30% of its total water supply. How can this widespread but invisible natural resources be governed? This dissertation explores the history of groundwater monitoring in postwar Taiwan and asks how large-scale environmental governance becomes possible. I argue that the knowledge infrastructure mediated by the state is the key to groundwater management. In Part I of the dissertation, I contextualize the groundwater monitoring system within the postwar context of groundwater development and points out the necessity of this system to effective governance. I first explain how the ROC government devised a water right distribution regime that combined regulations, policies, and scientific practices to develop and govern groundwater resources. However, such a regime was never fully implemented because the monitoring system either targeted the wrong areas or mismanaged the collected data. Therefore, the ROC government rebuilt the monitoring system in the late 1980s, a process I reconstruct in Part II. The new system works because (1) the experts changed their assumptions about the hydrogeology of the underground world and (2) their practices can balance between scientific standardization and contingencies during the fieldwork. The dissertation makes three contributions to current scholarly debates. First, I reconsider the ROC government’s capability of environmental governance and challenge the argument that the government’s development policies simply focused on resource exploitation. By investigating the planning of the knowledge infrastructure, I show that the ROC government was willing to govern the nature through scientific knowledge but lacked the ability to materialize their vision. Second, I argue that monitoring is an important but under-studied governing practice, and that the state’s ability to build and manage its knowledge infrastructure—the groundwater monitoring system in this case—reflects its capability of effective governance. Third, inspired by the assemblage theory, I argue that infrastructure should be defined neither as a standardized framework nor a fluid assemblage, but as “heterogeneous associations under limited standardization.”


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