Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tim Oakes

Second Advisor

Darrin Magee

Third Advisor

John O'Loughlin

Fourth Advisor

Tom Perreault

Fifth Advisor

Emily Yeh


Over the past 20 years the relationship between peasants and water in the semi-arid Zuli Valley of Northwest China has been radically altered by a series of state-backed development projects. 20 years ago peasant grew primarily rain-fed subsistence crops and relied on centuries-old rainwater harvesting techniques for their domestic water supplies. Following a series of state-backed interventions, peasants today grow primarily cash crops and depend on state-backed projects for their domestic water supplies. These changes were brought about through development projects. In the Reform and Opening Period a series of spatial hierarchies has emerged--westernness, rurality, and poverty--that categorized certain regions of China as backwards and in need of modernization through state-backed development. The Zuli valley was categorized as backwards based on each of these criteria, and the solution to its poverty was believed to be solving the problem of water shortages. As a result, a series state actors aimed to change how peasants related to water by providing irrigation water, changing the crops that they grew, improving rainwater harvesting technology, and providing running water. This dissertation examines these changes from the perspective of the governance of the aleatory--the element of risk and chance. The aleatory is an important, yet underdeveloped, element of Foucault's examination of governmentality. Each of the interventions made in human relationships with water in the Zuli Valley was designed to reduce the chances of or ameliorate the effects of potential water shortages. Yet, each of the programs ultimately shifted risk to other areas, particularly variations in market prices and the dependability of state water supplies.