Water Contestations: Socio-Technical Entanglements, Politics and Social Mobilisation

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441). This special issue belongs to the section "Water Resources Management, Policy and Governance".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 15 November 2024 | Viewed by 10987

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Groundwater Governance & Equity Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: water governance; water users associations; groundwater

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Guest Editor
Water Resources Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: political ecology; water rights and justice; integrated water management; legal pluralism; cultural politics; governmentality; social mobilization; Latin America; Spain
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: irrigation; farmer-led irrigation development; drip irrigation; solar irrigation; social construction of technology; science and technology studies; water grabbing; water justice
Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: water governance; collective water management; irrigation; irrigation management;

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Water is intrinsically contested and therefore political, meaning that it is part and parcel of arrangements of power and authority in human–water–technology associations and the activities and conflicts that take place within these socio-material arrangements. Based on this notion, this Special Issue will advance our understanding of water contestations and how they unfold through intricate socio-technical, socio-material and symbolic relations. All the papers in this Issue seek to study how socio-political processes and/or cultural–symbolic dimensions connect with physical–material expressions in everyday contestation over water. These contestations often involve disputes over water’s material distribution, its socio-normative and cultural organization, its political and technological control, its ontological definition, and over the worldviews that explain and legitimize the ways in which water and waterworlds are to be known and ordered.

The collection of papers will engage with a variety of current debates and theories on the politics of water, including issues that range from water as a human right, the politics of water’s nature, hydrosocial territorialization and the politics of knowledge to social movements and struggles for water commoning.

We are looking for both rich empirical case studies and theoretical contributions, as well as literature reviews, relating to the outlined topic. The Special Issue will aim to bring together perspectives and cases from across the world, contributing to the ‘political ecology of water’ as a field of engaged research and societal action.

Dr. Jaime Hoogesteger
Prof. Dr. Rutgerd Boelens
Dr. Gert Jan Veldwisch
Dr. Jeroen Vos
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Water is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2600 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • water commons
  • water collectives and co-governance

Published Papers (7 papers)

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Research

17 pages, 561 KiB  
Article
Locally Led Opportunities for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Climate Change and Gender Equality Partnerships in the Blue Pacific
by Melita Grant and Juliet Willetts
Water 2024, 16(6), 872; https://doi.org/10.3390/w16060872 - 18 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1034
Abstract
Partnerships between water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and rights-holder organisations (RHOs) have become more common, important and impactful in the international development sector, and they have been driven by aligned agendas, mutual benefits and the pursuit of locally owned and inclusive development agendas. [...] Read more.
Partnerships between water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and rights-holder organisations (RHOs) have become more common, important and impactful in the international development sector, and they have been driven by aligned agendas, mutual benefits and the pursuit of locally owned and inclusive development agendas. There are opportunities to broaden partnerships and coalitions to include climate change advocacy, adaptation and mitigation organisations given the increased focus on the links between WASH, resilience and climate change action. This article takes a first step in addressing the question: How can the experience of WASH, gender equality and climate organisation partnerships and coalitions in the Blue Pacific inform the WASH sector in its growing support of and investment in diverse partnerships in support of localism? We conducted a systematic scoping review to identify the literature on gender equality, WASH and climate change-related partnerships and coalitions in the Blue Pacific. Three key themes emerged from the systematic scoping review based on 23 studies published from 1996 to 2024. Firstly, partnerships and coalitions are part of a critical localism agenda, though care needs to be taken by potential partners and donors to understand and manage power dynamics between actors and organisations working within and across sectors. Secondly, a range of benefits and success factors have been documented on partnerships and coalitions in the Blue Pacific, including support for emerging leadership, leveraging policy outcomes, facilitating learning and the sharing of frameworks and tools between partners. Thirdly, like all parts of the community and governance ecosystem, gender dynamics and social norms inform and influence partnerships and coalitions. At the same time, partnerships are important for informing and driving gender equality and inclusion at the local and regional levels including within the WASH sector. This article is useful for local actors, donors and civil society organisations wishing to pursue the mutually beneficial goals of WASH, gender equality, climate change action and localisation in the Blue Pacific. Full article
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15 pages, 2620 KiB  
Article
Unveiling Pathways to Enhance Social Learning Processes in Water Struggles
by Daniele Tubino de Souza
Water 2024, 16(5), 629; https://doi.org/10.3390/w16050629 - 20 Feb 2024
Viewed by 782
Abstract
To advance actionable knowledge production in the context of water struggles, this article identifies ways to strengthen transformative learning processes within riverine social movements. The complex challenges associated with water struggles point to an increasing need to explore ways in which these processes [...] Read more.
To advance actionable knowledge production in the context of water struggles, this article identifies ways to strengthen transformative learning processes within riverine social movements. The complex challenges associated with water struggles point to an increasing need to explore ways in which these processes can be shaped and to promote changes in the worldviews that inform how water and riverine environments are perceived and structured. This study draws on the grassroots movement for the social-ecological regeneration of the Taquara Stream in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Research on this case has shown that the actions conducted by this movement fostered learning processes through the creation of innovative forms of involvement that brought together multiple actors. A panel of experts conducted an in-depth analysis of the learning practices observed in this case. This article discusses five aspects of the learning process, which have been identified by the experts, that are essential to expanding the transformative potential of water-related social movements: (1) building relationships of trust between actors, (2) building links with and between key actors in the process, (3) creating dialogue spaces that promote the co-creation of actionable knowledge, (4) engaging actors spontaneously, proactively, and co-responsibly in the process, and (5) bringing participatory research into local processes. Full article
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21 pages, 1247 KiB  
Article
Fabricating Irrigators: Contested Hydrosocial Territories and Subject-Making in Spain’s Tagus–Segura Interbasin Transfer Arena
by Nicholas Bourguignon, Sergio Villamayor-Tomás and Rutgerd Boelens
Water 2024, 16(2), 192; https://doi.org/10.3390/w16020192 - 5 Jan 2024
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1325
Abstract
This article explores how irrigation farmer (regante) subjectivities are constructed in direct conjunction with the production of modernist–capitalist hydrosocial territories across the Tagus and Segura river basins in central and south-east Spain. We explore the complexities and contradictions of how, at [...] Read more.
This article explores how irrigation farmer (regante) subjectivities are constructed in direct conjunction with the production of modernist–capitalist hydrosocial territories across the Tagus and Segura river basins in central and south-east Spain. We explore the complexities and contradictions of how, at various scales of governance, authorities establish and seek to realize ideal regante subjects across time and space. We mobilize a hydrosocial territory approach, combined with feminist political ecology and hegemony literature, to explore how such ideal subjects are built through Spanish and regional legislation and policies from 1866 to 2023. Through interviews with regantes in six irrigation communities, we identify different ideal and actual regante subjects in territories interconnected by the Tagus–Segura Aqueduct. We analyze how policy shifts lead to multiple and contradictory roles and responsibilities for regante subjects, which are linked to plot modernization, agricultural professionalization, and farmer rejuvenation. These sharpen divisions between smallholders and emerging large capitalist actors. Counterhegemonic territorial proposals resist these pressures by embodying alternative values and imaginaries. We conclude that through such counterhegemonic struggles, subject construction is enriched, identifying real-life existing and future alternatives for more just hydrosocial territories. Full article
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16 pages, 1617 KiB  
Article
Understanding Anti-Dam Resistance Politics: A Historical and Territorial Study of Two Megadams in Coastal Ecuador
by Juan Pablo Hidalgo-Bastidas
Water 2023, 15(23), 4132; https://doi.org/10.3390/w15234132 - 29 Nov 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1077
Abstract
Megadams are controversial ventures. Despite their contentious benefits, the negative impacts on local communities are enormous. This has prompted substantial disapproval and resistance, particularly from the communities that endure the most of its adverse effects. While many megadams have been constructed in the [...] Read more.
Megadams are controversial ventures. Despite their contentious benefits, the negative impacts on local communities are enormous. This has prompted substantial disapproval and resistance, particularly from the communities that endure the most of its adverse effects. While many megadams have been constructed in the face of opposition, others have been halted or altered as a result of the fierce protests of affected people and their allies. A better understanding of the latter is key to promoting equitable and just water governance throughout the implementation of hydraulic infrastructure. Based on ethnographic and historical research carried out between 2014 and 2017, the article shows the power relations, social actors and historical-contextual factors that have influenced the development of the Daule-Peripa and Baba megadams on the Ecuadorian coast. From a political ecology and subaltern studies perspective, this article describes and analyses the social, territorial, and historical interconnectedness of the local communities of Patricia Pilar and Daule-Peripa dam in coastal Ecuador that successfully stopped the construction of a dam and had a great influence on its final hydraulic design. I argue that, given the adequate socio-political conditions and a systematic process of knowledge and experience exchange among affected communities, anti-dam struggles can emerge with significant capacity to influence in their favour the megadam implementation processes and other hydraulic infrastructures. Full article
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19 pages, 2900 KiB  
Article
Utopian River Planning and Hydrosocial Territory Transformations in Colombia and Spain
by Bibiana Duarte-Abadía
Water 2023, 15(14), 2545; https://doi.org/10.3390/w15142545 - 11 Jul 2023
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1333
Abstract
This paper examines how utopian river planning has arisen in Colombia and Spain since the late nineteenth century. Specifically, the paper contributes to understanding how particular ideologies of modernism and development present in territorial planning connect both countries. Taking Thomas More’s classic work [...] Read more.
This paper examines how utopian river planning has arisen in Colombia and Spain since the late nineteenth century. Specifically, the paper contributes to understanding how particular ideologies of modernism and development present in territorial planning connect both countries. Taking Thomas More’s classic work ‘Utopia’ as the analytical reference, I analyze how utopian tendencies have traveled through time and space to shape territorial planning and water governance. In both countries, this was evident in the late nineteenth century through the political project to strengthen the nation state. For Spain, I describe the regenerationist movement and the hydraulic utopia led by the Spanish intellectual Joaquín Costa, who forged the dream of a water nationhood. By contrast, in Colombia, several political intellectuals looked at Europe and North America as a source of inspiration to achieve progress by controlling rivers. Through the method of disjunctive comparison, I show how the same utopian notions are expressed in similar ways in distinct contexts: violently governing the flows of rivers, standardizing minds and ordering territories towards capital growth. This paper contributes to grasping the notions and roots of the discourses that have colonized the political water agendas in both countries. Full article
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22 pages, 3265 KiB  
Article
Analysis of Social Networks of Water-Use-Related Information in the Rio Mayo Irrigation District (038) in Northern Mexico: Ethnicity, Land Tenure and Land Use
by Ixtoc Marlo Rivera-Nuñez, Diana Luque Agraz, Arthur D. Murphy and Eric C. Jones
Water 2023, 15(12), 2288; https://doi.org/10.3390/w15122288 - 19 Jun 2023
Viewed by 1364
Abstract
(1) Background: In Mexico, 76% of water consumed is used for crop irrigation, and close to half of this is used in 86 irrigation districts for agroindustry throughout the nation. The present study combines a political ecology approach with social networks analysis to [...] Read more.
(1) Background: In Mexico, 76% of water consumed is used for crop irrigation, and close to half of this is used in 86 irrigation districts for agroindustry throughout the nation. The present study combines a political ecology approach with social networks analysis to identify how water-use-related information networks are structured according to the ethnicity (indigenous and non-indigenous) of the users of the Rio Mayo Irrigation District 038 (RMID) and how these networks are influenced by users’ type of land tenure and land use. (2) Methods: The study involved three stages: identification of social actors that influence water management (SAIWM); application of 118 structured interviews with users of RMID; and ethnographic fieldwork. (3) Results: Thirty SAIWM were identified. Only 11.8% of RMID users interviewed were indigenous farmers and only 5% were indigenous holders of collective landholdings. The information network metrics indicate that indigenous users have less access to information than non-indigenous users. (4) Conclusions: Ethnicity as well as land tenure and land use influence the structure of information networks and determine whether RMID users work as land-holding farmers or as hired labor. Full article
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16 pages, 1334 KiB  
Article
Shifting Waters: The Challenges of Transitioning from Freshwater to Treated Wastewater Irrigation in the Northern Jordan Valley
by Mohamed Hassan Tawfik, Hadeel Al-Zawaidah, Jaime Hoogesteger, Maha Al-Zu’bi, Petra Hellegers, Javier Mateo-Sagasta and Amgad Elmahdi
Water 2023, 15(7), 1315; https://doi.org/10.3390/w15071315 - 27 Mar 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3058
Abstract
Jordan’s water scarcity prompted a national plan whereby treated wastewater is utilized to amend agricultural irrigation water so as to reallocate freshwater to urban/domestic uses. The policy, however, has engendered farmers’ resistance in the Northern Jordan Valley (NJV), causing a stalemate in putting [...] Read more.
Jordan’s water scarcity prompted a national plan whereby treated wastewater is utilized to amend agricultural irrigation water so as to reallocate freshwater to urban/domestic uses. The policy, however, has engendered farmers’ resistance in the Northern Jordan Valley (NJV), causing a stalemate in putting new infrastructure into operation. This research investigated the socio-economic causes of farmer resistance and contestation, and examined the government’s institutional approach to overcome the challenges. We found that the perceived risks of wastewater reuse such as salinization and restrictions from international markets figure prominently in the farmers resistance. As yet, farmers have managed to avoid the shift to treated wastewater use by using the political agency of elite farmers who control the Water Users Associations. These same farmers have adopted informal water access practices to overcome freshwater shortages. At the same time, small producers who don’t have possibilities to access extra water and with less political clout seem more willing to irrigate with treated wastewater. We conclude that understanding the heterogeneous context in which the envisioned wastewater users operate is key to predicting and solving conflicts that arise in treated wastewater reuse projects. Full article
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Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Water contestations: Socio-technical entanglements, politics and social mobilizatio
Authors: Jaime Hoogesteger, Rutgerd Boelens, GertJan Veldwisch and Jeroen Vos
Affiliation: /
Abstract: ater is intrinsically contested and therefore political, meaning that it is part and parcel of arrangements of power and authority in human-water-technology associations as well as the activities and conflicts that take place within those socio-material arrangements. Based on this notion, this Special Issue will advance our understanding of water contestations and how they unfold through intricate socio-technical, socio-material and symbolic relations. All the papers in this issue seek to study how socio-political processes and/or cultural-symbolic dimensions connect with physical-material expressions in everyday contestation over water.These contestations often entwine disputes over water’s material distribution, its socio-normative and cultural organization, its political and technological control, its ontological definition, and over the worldviews that explain and legitimize the ways in which water and waterworlds are to be known and ordered. The collection of papers engages with a variety of current debates and theories on the politics of water, including issues that range from water as a human right, the politics of water’s nature, hydrosocial territorialization, the politics of knowledge, to social movements and struggles for water commoning

Title: Overlapping ontologies and translating knowledges. Reflections on building earthen dikes with smallholder farmers in Guinea-Bissau
Authors: Joseph Sandoval, Jeroen Vos, Marina Temudo
Affiliation: /
Abstract: The current conceptualisations of the divide between Western Scientific and Indigenous knowledge reflect constrasting persectives such as the ethno-sciences and the ontological turn. Critics of both frameworks highlight the risks of absolutising and isolating Indigenous knoweldge. In this paper, we provide a novel conceptualisation of the knowledge divide without absolutising and isolating Indigenous knowledge. We conceptualise by exploring the overlapping ontologies and dialogue between the small-holder rice farmers in Guinea-Bissau and researchers. An ethnographic study was carried out in two villages, each with a different ethnic group, and our findings show that ontological overlaps are spaces of shared understanding between Western scientific and Indigenous knowledge. We argue that Indigenous knowedge can be understood by Western scientific knowledge through prolonged engagement and it can be expressed in Western scientific ontology through knowledge translation. Moreover, we argue that Western scientific knowledge can be used to pursue agenda set by indigenous communities which can be identified through dialogue.

Title: Conservation strategies, urban water demands and hydraulic infrastructure as governmentalities that territorialize Ecuadorian páramos
Authors: Rossana Manosalvas, Jaime Hoogesteger, Rutgerd Boelens
Affiliation: /
Abstract: This article analyzes the contested nature of initiatives that aim to protect the paramos in Ecuador for both nature conservation as well as for the protection of water sources. The different schemes that are being implemented are critically analyzed showing the contradictions and local responses to these projects. Our analysis is based on the notion of territorialization which aims to undestand how specific actors aim to control socio-nature relations in a specific space. Our results show that natue conservation and the protecti on of water sources are intrinsically political projects that are based on and perpetuate power inequities between urban centres and rural areas

Title: Territorial autonomy and hydrosocial justice in the Paletara community in Colombia
Authors: Moritz Tenthoff
Affiliation: /
Abstract: In the lands of the indigenous community of Paletara in the department of Cauca, in situated in a paramo ecosystem. The territory of the indigenous community is enclosed by the National Park of Puracé, small hydroelectric plants as well as agro-forestry plantations. Proposals to participate in REDD+ or the payment for environmental services put additional pressure on the indigenous community, which has formulated a proposal to constitute themselves as Environmental and Territorial Authorities. Presence of illegal armed actors, the militarization of the paramo and violence excersied by workers of the forestry company are intertwined with this territorial dispute. In this context, the article answers the following questions: How violence, epistemologies and ontologies have been used as disciplinary techniques to impose land and water accumulation in the community of Paletara? Which ideas of hydrosocial justice exist within the community of Paletara and what possible conflicts may exist between these ideas? How territorial autonomy and river commoning have been strategies of the communtiy of Paletara to disrupt hydro-hegemonies and build territorial alternatives?

Title: The politics of dialogue and social mobilisation: A critical reflection from the case of the regeneration of the Taquara River, Brazil
Authors: Daniele Tubino de Souza
Affiliation: /
Abstract: This article critically reflects on the dialogical processes and their political dimensions in a grassroots movement for the socio-environmental regeneration of a degraded river, the Taquara River, in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil. The study investigated the action of a local group, called "Taquara River Basin Working Group", composed of members of the local community, technicians from the government, as well as teachers, students, and researchers from local educational institutions. The interactions of the Working Group were guided by a dialogical process between the multiple actors involved, being based on the integration of local and technical knowledge and co-created actions aimed at improving the local socio-environmental conditions. The results of this study suggest that dialogue carried out in a climate of mutual trust was key to integrating the diversity of views and equalizing the different languages of a highly diverse group.

Title: River imaginaries and climate change adaptation
Authors: Lotte de Jong, Gert Jan Veldwisch, Lieke Melsen, Rutgerd Boelens
Affiliation: /
Abstract: Worldwide, rivers face challenges due to human and climatic pressures. Climate change adaptation projects increase the incentive to domesticate rivers, often legitimised through expert views on (future) vulnerability and risk. This emerging river imaginary dominates current debates in many rivers in our world. In this study, we approach river imaginaries as reflections of spatially bound hydrosocial territories in which multiple actors on multiple scales from multiples sectors operate to reach varying objectives. In the context of climate change adaptation, river imaginaries are strongly dependent on the extent to which climate change is expected to influence rivers through a mixture of probable, possible, desirable or preferable versions of a (future) river. As such, knowledge-structures of future making are scrutinised by emphasising on the role of change, the role of futures and the role of experts. This manuscript aims to elucidate how river imaginaries have influenced river management under climate change adaptation that resulted in large infrastructural projects and which other imaginaries exist. Through an empirical study of the Meuse river, we follow how a concrete case of a river imaginary came into being in the Dutch-Belgian Border-Meuse trajectory. The findings in this manuscript indicate that the dominate imaginary of technocratic and ecocentric approaches to climate change adaptation merged, and that the legal obligation for gravel mining in combination with an extensive normalising participatory process has been key to realise this adaptation project.

Title: Exploring Participatory Tools in Groundwater Management: A Case Study in the Bolivian Andes
Authors: Rodriguez-Levy, Inti E.1,2; Quiroga Eróstegui, Celeste3,4,5; Gruberg Cazón, Helga1,6
Affiliation: 1. Universidad Católica Boliviana “San Pablo”, Centro de Investigación de Ciencias Exactas e Ingenierías, Cochabamba, Bolivia 2. Department of Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium ORCID0000-0002-6231-5409 3. Universidad Católica Boliviana “San Pablo”, Centro de Investigaciones de Ciencias Sociales, Cochabamba 4. Law and Development Research Group de la University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium 5. The Global Network for Human Rights and the Environment ORCID0000-0003-4397-4545 6. Ghent University, Department of Agricultural Economics, Ghent, Belgium; ORCID 0000-0003-1723-6549, Cochabamba, Bolivia; [email protected]
Abstract: Water management poses complex sustainability challenges, necessitating the integration of advanced scientific methodologies and participatory approaches. However, in the vast majority of cases, the fields of engineering and exact sciences have not succeeded in adopting a comprehensive approach based on people, leading to a lack of consideration for the genuine requirements of stakeholders residing within the basins, thereby rendering them largely unnoticed. Within this framework, this paper aims to explore the utilization of participatory tools in groundwater engineering, focusing on a case study involving the construction process of the "Enhanced Algorithm for Recharge based on the Rainfall and Land cover Inclusion" (EARLI) model developed by Rodriguez-Levy et al. (2023). The study investigates the development and application of this tool in identifying potential groundwater recharge zones within a micro basin located in the Bolivian Andes. Grounded Theory Methodology was used to reconstruct the process´s timeline, identifying significant milestones that have influenced its development. Moreover, a comprehensive analysis of the employed participatory tools was conducted, highlighting their potential contribution to the complex science of integrated water management. The findings reveal that integrated water management presents a complex sustainability problem, requiring the support of sophisticated scientific methodologies, including participatory research tools. Notably, the utilization of social cartography, participatory transects, and the Delphi Method demonstrated their efficacy as participatory tools, enriching the multifaceted field of water science. This research contributes to understanding the sociotechnical aspects, political dynamics, and social mobilization inherent in water contestations.

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