John Anthony Allan’s “Virtual Water”: Natural Resources Management in the Wake of Neoliberalism



Virtual water is heralded as the solution to unequal access to freshwater. British geographer John Anthony Allan invented the concept, advocating that it would allow water-scarce nations to effectively import freshwater through international trade. Yet virtual water was not widely adopted until after Allan was awarded a prestigious prize for his idea in 2008. While advances in modeling have surely also contributed to the uptake of the concept, the role of prestigious prizes on intellectual movements is understudied. Increased use has not led to more nuance—virtual water ignores ecological constraints, like watersheds. Virtual water is an example of the neoliberalization of nature, using water as liquid capital.

Author Biographies

Kaitlin Stack Whitney, Rochester Institute of Technology, U.S.

Kaitlin Stack Whitney is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Science, Technology, and Society Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology, with a joint appointment in the Environmental Science Program. She holds a PhD in Zoology with a minor in Science & Technology Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research incorporates observational ecology, animal studies, policy analysis, and modern environmental history.

Kristoffer Whitney, Rochester Institute of Technology, U.S.

Kristoffer Whitney is an Assistant Professor in the Science, Technology & Society Department at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and holds a PhD in the History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania. His work has focused on the intersections between endangered species science and policy, and he has recently published, with Melanie Kiechle, a special issue of Science as Culture on the quantification of the environment titled “Counting on Nature.”