Knowledge that does not undermine anyone

In this interview for NWO, the Dutch Research Council, Rutgerd Boelens talks about how the Riverhood and River Commons projects address social and environmental challenges, specifically focusing on water management, and their interconnection with issues of knowledge and power.

“‘Around the globe, water management is riddled with colonial concepts that are dominating other views,’ explains Boelens. ‘One of the most important ideas is that “Society can be engineered”. It is an implicit idea behind lots of scientific research and behind many development interventions that non-Western societies are somehow ‘less civilized’ and that progress can only be achieved there by modernizing systems and breaking with the past.’

Boelens explains that it is typical for these western mission-like projects to use terms such as ‘best practices’ and ‘good governance’. ‘As if there are universal solutions that you can simply copy from one part of the world and paste them onto another part of the world,’ he says. In water management, there are many cases where private and marketable water rights are introduced based on the idea that this is modernization. This means that water can be owned individually and bought and sold.”

See the full article here: “Knowledge that does not undermine anyone”

Riverhood in the event “Citizen Science in ERC projects”

On December 7th 2022, Rutgerd Boelens, Daniele Tubino, and Bibiana Duarte-Abadia attended the “Citizen Science in ERC projects: Mapping ERC frontier research” event, promoted by the European Research Council, in Brussels, Belgium. Riverhood (which was awarded an ERC Consolidator grant – grant agreement No 101002921) was included in the selected research projects (showcase ERC projects citizen science) presented at the event that use citizen science as one of their methodological approaches. Citizen science constitutes a method that can be included in the innovative approach promoted by Riverhood called “river co-learning arenas” (RCA), which are multi-stakeholders interactive spaces for the promotion of action research to be conducted in the multiple river cases around the world, composing this research endeavor.

The event counted also with presentations of leading scholars in the area of citizen science and generated an interesting debate on the subject, especially in relation to questions concerning ethics in this type of research and the key added value that citizen science can bring to scientific research if it maintains a critical perspective on its application and preserves its potential to add multiple perspectives on the issues at stake.

Carlota Houart’s participation in the Deep Commons Conference 2022

On 27 October, Carlota Houart, PhD researcher at the Riverhood project, participated in the Deep Commons Conference 2022 as part of the panel “Towards multispecies justice”, to present her research proposal, Listening to the Voices of the River: Towards Multispecies Justice in Water Governance Processes. The Deep Commons Conference theme this year was “Cultivating Ecologies of Solidarity and Care beyond Capitalism, Patriarchy, Racism and the State”, and more information about the program and the variety of panel, workshop, and roundtable contributions from researchers, activists, artists and others around the globe can be found here:

Carlota’s presentation focused on the emergent concept and research program of multispecies justice, and how it can be applied to the study of the interests and practices of social movements and local communities mobilizing to defend and restore river ecosystems. By reflecting on recent experiences with preliminary fieldwork in the context of the Dutch river Maas, Carlota also pointed to a few ethical questions surrounding research on human/non-human relations that might be central for any activist researcher working on topics of justice (especially those that entangle and intersect human and other-than-human lives).

Logo for the WASS PhD Council

We are thrilled to share that Catalina Rey Hernández, PhD researcher of the Riverhood project, won the contest to design the logo for the WASS PhD Council.

The decision was announced on October 20, 2022, in the context of the WAS PhD day. The logo conveys ‘diversity’ as the council’s core value and was chosen due to its creativity and originality.

We are very proud of Catalina and look forward to continue witnessing her creations in the years to come!

First steps of Riverhood

In this interview published in the WUR magazine, Rutgerd Boelens reflects on the key issues and ideas addressed by the Riverhood project. This project, developed in partnership with a large number of researchers, activists, local communities, has been awarded a five-year grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Boelens explains that he came across the ancient and nearly forgotten English term “riverhood” in an encyclopedia: “It turns out to be a nineteenth-century concept that means ‘the state of being a river’. That is what I want to investigate because I don’t see a river as just a lot of flowing water.”

Check out the full interview here.

PhD graduation of Lena Hommes awarded with Cum Laude

On the 6th of July we celebrated the PhD defense of Lena Hommes, researcher in the Riverhood and River Commons projects, who graduated with a cum laude.

In her PhD project “Infrastructure Lives. Water, Territories, and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain”, Lena analysed processes and discussions surrounding the envisioning, construction and contestation of hydraulic infrastructure and connected territorial reconfigurations in Turkey, Peru and Spain. Her central research question is: How are diverging visions and imaginaries about the shaping of hydrosocial territories through large-scale hydraulic infrastructure (dams, water transfers and hydropower plants) in Turkey, Peru and Spain promoted, realized and contested or accepted; and with what effects?

The committee, consisting of Prof Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester), Prof Tom Perreault (University of Syracuse), Prof Edward Huijbens (WUR) and Prof Diana Suhardiman (Leiden University), together with the external referees, unanimously qualified the thesis and the oral defence as “excellent”.

The dissertation, supervised by Prof Boelens and Dr Esha Shah (WASS, ESG-WRM), is based on five peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, and 9 publications closely connected. The committee comments that the dissertation also has high social importance: “…the candidate has done the research compassionately, driven not only by desire to know and understand, but also by a strong sense of societal and scientific responsibilities...”. The supervisors explain that the candidate makes hydraulic infrastructure visible, revealing its hidden power and exclusionary practices, opening technological black boxes to allow for public debate and democratic decision-making: “out of the hands of a few technical experts and elites”.

Altogether, the committee and referees summarized that: “taken as a whole, this is an outstanding dissertation. The research is rigorous and of very high quality, and surpasses all standards for social scientific research”.

Interested to learn more about this topic? You can visit the movingrivers website or engage with Dr. Lena Hommes in the afternoon dialogue on August 30. Dr. Lena Hommes and novelist Frank Westerman (‘To true to be good’) will debate their books in the public seminar “Dam dreams and river rewilding: Ideals in dispute” in Impulse, campus WUR.



Summary of Lena’s thesis

Infrastructure Lives: Water, Territories and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain

Lena Hommes

Keywords: Water, infrastructure, political ecology, territories, governmentality, Turkey, Peru, Spain

This dissertation departs from questions about territorialization processes associated with modern hydraulic infrastructure. It asks about the visions and imaginaries that shape hydraulic infrastructure projects and how these imaginaries change through time; how hydraulic infrastructure is a powerful tool to materialize specific imaginaries in expected and unexpected ways; and what effects this brings about for adjacent hydrosocial territories. The central research question is: How have contested imaginaries shaped hydraulic infrastructure projects and, in consequence, (re)configured hydrosocial territories in Turkey, Peru and Spain?

In order to do so, this research gives analytically deep ‘snapshots’ of diverse unfinished moments of hydraulic infrastructures, territorial transformations and associated imaginaries. It takes the diverse contexts of Turkey, Peru and Spain to shed light on different infrastructures, different moments of infrastructural life, and different imaginaries about hydrosocial territories and the role infrastructure should play in it. It shows how the ‘lives of infrastructure’ constantly develop because of shifting material, environmental, political and social relations in different historic and political momentums. In that sense, hydraulic infrastructures as plans, processes and materializations, as socio-technical nodes and mediators in constantly developing human/nonhuman relations, reflect and co-constitute our socionatural living together, our infrastructure lives. Hydraulic infrastructures are therefore not inanimate objects but living and acting as the materialization of socio-political relations and debates about the what and who of our living together. This, in consequence, means that studying hydraulic infrastructure provides a fascinating lens to dissect and understand the questions, struggles and enactments of debates about nature, society and the entwinement of both. With re-naturalisation and dam removal on the rise, some infrastructure’s lives might have already come to an end. But others will continue in the future – either in present forms or reincarnated in new designs, new discourses, new environments, new imaginaries, new relations.