Localizing resource insecurities: A biocultural perspective on water and wellbeing

Alexandra A. Brewis, Barbara Piperata, Amanda L. Thompson, Amber Wutich

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


A biocultural approach provides an emerging framework for clarifying the mechanisms that connect water security to human health and wellbeing. Five basic tenets of the biocultural approach are outlined: The focus on the local, the centrality of culture, the notion of embodied disadvantage, a concern with proximate mechanisms as a means to test theorized pathways, and recognition of intersecting and potentially amplified (syndemic) risks. From a review of both new and dispersed biocultural literature on household water, four key themes emerge: (a) individual vulnerabilities to the biological effects of water insecurity are shaped by cultural practices; (b) water insecurity is a powerful biocultural stressor on mental health; (c) water insecurity mediates between low power and worse health within communities, and through multiple mechanisms; (d) the household is a nexus for food–water interactions, each likely worsening each other and health through syndemic relationships. This sets an agenda for a biocultural approach to the household as a localizing nexus for manifesting the very human costs to mental and physical health of managing under conditions of extreme household resource insecurity. This article is categorized under: Engineering of Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1440
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • health
  • households
  • stress
  • water insecurity
  • wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Aquatic Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Oceanography
  • Ecology


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