Anthropological theories of reciprocity suggest it enhances prestige, social solidarity, and material security. Yet, some ethnographic cases suggest that water sharing—a form of reciprocity newly gaining scholarly attention—might work in the opposite way, increasing conflict and emotional distress. Using cross-cultural survey data from twenty global sites (n = 4,267), we test how household water reciprocity (giving and receiving) is associated with negative emotional and social outcomes. Participation in water sharing as both givers and receivers is consistently associated with greater odds of reporting shame, upset, and conflict over water. Water sharing experiences in a large, diverse sample confirm a lack of alignment with predictions of classic reciprocity theories. Recent ethnographic research on reciprocity in contexts of deepening contemporary poverty will allow development of ethnographically informed theories to better explain negative experiences tied to water reciprocity.
National Science Foundation
mental health, reciprocity, water borrowing, water insecurity, water loaning
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Amber Wutich, Asher Rosinger, Alexandra Brewis, Melissa Beresford, and Sera Young. "Water sharing is a distressing form of reciprocity: Shame, upset, anger, and conflict over water in twenty cross-cultural sites" American Anthropologist (2022): 279-290. https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13682