Articles | Volume 18, issue 4
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 1369–1382, 2014

Special issue: Predictions under change: water, earth, and biota in the anthropocene...

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 1369–1382, 2014

Research article 08 Apr 2014

Research article | 08 Apr 2014

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one small step – human agency, hydrological processes and time in socio-hydrology

M. W. Ertsen1, J. T. Murphy2,3, L. E. Purdue4, and T. Zhu1 M. W. Ertsen et al.
  • 1Delft University of Technology, Water Resources Department, Delft, the Netherlands
  • 2Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, USA
  • 3University of Chicago, Computation Institute, Chicago, USA
  • 4School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA

Abstract. When simulating social action in modeling efforts, as in socio-hydrology, an issue of obvious importance is how to ensure that social action by human agents is well-represented in the analysis and the model. Generally, human decision-making is either modeled on a yearly basis or lumped together as collective social structures. Both responses are problematic, as human decision-making is more complex and organizations are the result of human agency and cannot be used as explanatory forces. A way out of the dilemma of how to include human agency is to go to the largest societal and environmental clustering possible: society itself and climate, with time steps of years or decades. In the paper, another way out is developed: to face human agency squarely, and direct the modeling approach to the agency of individuals and couple this with the lowest appropriate hydrological level and time step. This approach is supported theoretically by the work of Bruno Latour, the French sociologist and philosopher. We discuss irrigation archaeology, as it is in this discipline that the issues of scale and explanatory force are well discussed. The issue is not just what scale to use: it is what scale matters. We argue that understanding the arrangements that permitted the management of irrigation over centuries requires modeling and understanding the small-scale, day-to-day operations and personal interactions upon which they were built. This effort, however, must be informed by the longer-term dynamics, as these provide the context within which human agency is acted out.