Rivers are under threat all around the world. Despite their crucial importance for humans and nature, they are contaminated, blocked by dams, depleted for irrigation, and canalized for transportation. Historically, conquering nature and (at once) ordering society through mega-infrastructure, among others, has been a main response to water scarcity, quality, and flood risk problems; now aggravated by climate change.
However, promising alternatives are increasingly promoted around the world, challenging the status quo. River communities, civil organizations, activists and social movements develop new ideas and practices of river co-governance and (re)claim river commons.
Although not necessarily evenly equitable, such initiatives express cultural and legal pluralism, manifested in hydraulic works, moral agreements and resilience principles as well as co-create new valuation languages, alternative water rights practices and ecology-based solutions. They hold immense potential.
However, so far, they have received only little attention from scholars and policy makers alike. Current concepts and methods in the realm of water governance are insufficient to understand and theorize the pluriverse water worlds and claims for alternative approaches. The Riverhood and River Commons projects will develop a new framework to better understand and support river co-governance and new water justice movements. This new Science-Policy-Societal Action Framework has four dimensions:
- River-as-Ecosociety(RE): focuses on the interrelations between hydrological, biophysical, ecological and cultural aspects, understanding rivers as socio-nature;
- River-as-Territory (RT): focuses on river governance rules and institutions;
- River-as-Subject (RS): focuses on how people and rivers claim voice and rights as agents and subjects, as exemplified in ideas such as Rights of Rivers;
- River-as-Movement (RM): looks at how riverine communities and allies organize and advocate for river co-management.
These dimensions are closely interrelated. For instance, rules and rights established in a territory (RT) intrinsically relate to the river’s bio-physical ecologies (RE) and can spark specific counter movements (RM). Thus, each dimension will come back in each research project, even though possibly to varying degrees. Besides the study of these dimensions, the researchers will also explore how the dimensions interact, what key factors impede and enable synergies between them at different time and geographic scales, and how diverse actors can create learning spaces for individual and collective critical reflections and knowledge exchange for sustainable river co-governance.
photo by Laura Giraldo-Martinez