Introduction: Hydrosocial de-patterning and re-composition

Rutgerd Boelens, Tom Perreault, Jeroen Vos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Entry/PoemChapter

3 Scopus citations


Water governance fundamentally deals with the question of how to organize decision-making about water access, use and management in contexts of diverging interests, conflicting normative repertoires, and unequal power relations. It aims to produce particular socio-natural orders by controlling water resources, infrastructure, investments, knowledge, truth, and ultimately, water users and authorities (Boelens, 2014; Bridge and Perreault, 2009). To achieve this, as the chapters in Part I have illustrated, water governance reforms and interventions commonly emphasize strongly de-politicized common wellbeing, shared progress, and efficient, rational resource management. This naturalizing discourse of sustainable, progressive, clean development, achieved by egalitarian “stakeholders,” obscures the fact that water reforms and interventions entail competing claims and conflicts over water, territorial ordering, and reconfiguring socio-economic and politico-cultural realities (Harris and Alatout, 2010; Hommes et al., 2016; Kaika, 2006). These issues are directly related to disputes over problem definitions, knowledge frameworks, ontological meanings, decision-making powers and preferred solutions. The chapters in Part II will focus on this field of water (in)justice, the dynamics of contested imaginaries and materializing socio-natural, techno-political networks: de-patterning and re-patterning multi-scalar hydrosocial territories (Baviskar, 2007; Boelens et al., 2016; Linton and Budds, 2014; Swyngedouw, 2004, 2009). A governmentality perspective toward disputed, overlapping, hybridizing hydrosocial territories may help us to understand how water control is embedded in the broader political context of governance over and through socio-natures. Governmentality refers to the ways societies are governed, not only through direct application of laws and military force, but also through subtle and invisible “capillary” working of power to control, at once, the conduct of people and their socio-environment (Foucault, 1991). The concept of hydrosocial territory provides a lens to analyze water flows, water infrastructures, and water control as simultaneously, interactively constituted compositions of physical, social, political and symbolic entities and dimensions. Together, these domains form multi-scaled, networked mosaics, which produce techno-political and socio-ecological territoriality (Boelens et al., 2016; cf. Hommes et al., 2016; Hoogesteger et al., 2016; Swyngedouw, 2007). This analytical framework views humans and nature - social, technical and natural - not as separate entities that interact, but as mutually influencing, co-producing and constituting each other, in complex ways (see also Harris and Alatout, 2010; Latour, 1994).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWater Justice
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781316831847
ISBN (Print)9781107179080
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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