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Reassembling hydrosocial metabolic relations: a political ecology of water struggles in Chile

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This research investigates the dialectical relationships between water and social power. I analyze how the coupled processes of development, water privatization, and climate change have been shaping water struggles in

This research investigates the dialectical relationships between water and social power. I analyze how the coupled processes of development, water privatization, and climate change have been shaping water struggles in Chile. I focus on how these hydro-struggles are reconfiguring everyday practices of water management at the community scale and the ways in which these dynamics may contribute to more democratic and sustainable modes of water governance at both regional and national scales. Using a historical-geographical and multi-sited ethnographical lens, I investigate how different geographical projects (forestry, irrigated agriculture, and hydropower) were deployed in the Biobio and Santiago regions of Chile during the last 200 hundred years. I analyze how since the 1970s, these hydro-modernization projects have been gradually privatized, which in turn has led to environmental degradation and water dispossession affecting peasants and other rural populations. I frame these transformations using the political-ecological notion of hydrosocial assemblages produced by the different stages of the hydro-modernity—Liberal, Keynesian, Socialist, Neoliberal. I detail how these stages have repeatedly reshaped Chilean hydrosocial processes. I unpack the stages through the analysis of forestry, irrigation and hydropower developments in the central and southern regions of Chile, emphasizing how they have produced both uneven socio-spatial development and growing hydrosocial metabolic rifts, particularly during neoliberal hydro-modernity (1981-2015). Hydrosocial metabolic rifts occur when people have been separated or dispossessed from direct access and control of their traditional water resources. I conclude by arguing that there is a need to overcome the current unsustainable market-led approach to water governance. I propose the notion of a 'commons hydro-modernity', which is based on growing environmental and water social movements that are promoting a socio-spatial project to reassemble Chilean hydrosocial metabolic relations in a more democratic and sustainable way.

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  • 2016

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Coordination and power in water governance: the case of Prescott Active Management Area

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Studies of governance have focused on the interactions among diverse actors while implicitly recognizing the role of power within those relationships. Explicit power analyses of water governance coordination are needed

Studies of governance have focused on the interactions among diverse actors while implicitly recognizing the role of power within those relationships. Explicit power analyses of water governance coordination are needed to better understand the conditions for and barriers to sustainability. I therefore utilized a novel conceptual framework to analyze vertical and horizontal governance, along with power, to address how governance interactions affect water sustainability in terms of (1) interactions among governance actors across local to state levels; (2) coordination among actors at the local level; and (3) the exercise of power among assorted actors. I adopted a qualitative case study methodology that involved triangulating interview transcripts, policy documents, and other data in the case study area of Prescott, Arizona.

Across governance scales, my analysis found that informational and contentious interactions occur around water management plans, groundwater withdrawal fees, and growth debates due to the stipulations of Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act. Locally, municipalities in different groundwater basins coordinate by pooling resources for water development due to shared growth visions. However, municipalities within the same groundwater basin are divided in their pursuit of the state-mandated goal of safe yield due to discontent arising from differing growth visions, libertarian values of water control, and unequal responsibilities among actors in conserving water or monitoring use. Finally, local and state actors exercise power through litigation, legislation, and political processes to pursue their interests, thereby limiting coordination for water sustainability.

My explicit analysis of power reveals that coordination occurs not just because of water policies but due to interest-based water narratives (growth and libertarian). The emphasis of growth proponents on supply augmentation and libertarian opposition to regulations pose significant barriers to water sustainability. Successful policy-based pursuits of water sustainability will, thus, require an acknowledgment of these management asymmetries and commitments to addressing them.

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  • 2017