Department of Anthropology

Faculty Profilethe mysterious Paul Trawick

Paul Trawick, Ph.D.

Department Chair



Dr. Trawick is the new Chair of the department and Associate Professor of Socio-cultural Anthropology. He comes to ISU after having spent nearly eight years in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology at Cranfield University in England. Paul did his PhD in Socio-cultural Anthropology at Yale University after doing an MA in Social Anthropology at the University of Texas and a BSc. at the University of Oregon. Prior to going to Cranfield in 2005 he had been an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Kentucky for several years and had taught for a year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University. He began his professional career doing several consultancies on water reform for the World Bank and the InterAmerican Development Bank in Washington.

He is a member of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), a Fellow of the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA), a member of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC), and was a founding member of the UK Committee for the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change. He has been the recipient of research grants from the Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Macarthur Foundation, the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), and, most recently, from the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council.

Research Interests

Dr. Trawick’s work focuses primarily on the management of water for irrigation, and like any anthropologist with a similar interest, he views that problem as a social rather than a technological one. He is one of only a few anthropologists who have carried out comparative ethnographic research on successful irrigation systems in different parts of the world—mainly the Peruvian Andes and the Mediterranean coast of Spain--work that employed the same methods and research questions to reveal how such systems operate from the farmers’ point-of-view.

This comparative methodology has allowed him to test a controversial hypothesis that has been confirmed in all the locales and countries where he has done such work to date: that successful community-managed irrigation systems are all of the same general type, regardless of scale and level of structural complexity, being based on a highly similar if not identical set of institutions or operating principles for sharing a water scarcity.

He calls this type of hydraulic tradition “the moral economy of water”, and argues that it has emerged independently in a great many locally managed systems throughout the world. Paul feels that this kind of system can serve as a model, not only for improving local irrigation, but also for reforming water policy, for writing better national water laws, and for achieving sustainable livelihoods in a world destined to be characterized increasingly by such scarcity.


Department of Anthropology • College of Arts and Letters • Idaho State University
921 S. 8th Avenue, Stop 8005, Pocatello, ID  83209-8005
Tel: (208) 282-2629 • Fax: (208) 282-4944 • Email:


921 South 8th Avenue
Pocatello, Idaho, 83209