Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Research Spotlight: Jessica Cattelino, PhD

March 13, 2019

Jessica Cattelino, a sociocultural anthropologist, studies indigenous sovereignty, the cultural politics of water, and everyday American political processes and imaginations. As a Senior Faculty Research Associate at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, she directs Sustainable LA Grand Challenge research on gender and everyday water use in Los Angeles households

Tell us about your Sustainable LA Grand Challenge research.

This first-of-its-kind study examines how gender shapes the way people use, value, and save water on an everyday basis in North America. It is well known that women disproportionately procure and manage household water in developing nations. Despite the fact that household work and decision-making remain highly gendered in the United States, there is little scholarship on gender and residential water use here. Our research team worked in four diverse Los Angeles neighborhoods (Koreatown, Inglewood, Beverly Hills, and MacArthur Park) to learn about everyday gendered water practices and the ways that people understand and value water. We’re not only studying women but also documenting indoor and outdoor water practices, and the ideas people hold about them, for all adults over a two-year period.

By using a combination of anthropological methods—interviews, participant observation, etc.—and by explicitly using gender as an analytical lens, this research aims to reveal new data on how gender intersects with race and class to inform the way that Angelenos use and understand water, and ways that we might conserve.

How do you see this research transforming Los Angeles?

We plan to use the results of this study to advise legislators and policymakers on how to reduce water use, increase use of greywater, and encourage other sustainable indoor and outdoor residential practices; importantly, our study aims to do so with gender justice in mind, so that recommendations do not fall too much on the shoulders of women, and especially working-class and immigrant women.

What’s unique about doing a study like this in Los Angeles?

Given that so much of Los Angeles water use takes place in the household context, we need to know more about how households work. This is especially important and interesting in Los Angeles because of its diversity. Calls for environmental change in a city like LA—and, likely, anywhere—will be less effective, and perhaps even unintentionally harmful, if they do not build in attention to race, immigration, class, and gender. We aim to do better.