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Water, power & technology
06 June 2022 | Forum, WUR
Infrastructure concerns all of us, we are surrounded by it and rely on it daily. It is also an important topic in the diverse riversides studied by the Riverhood and River Commons projects. Therefore, on Thursday June 2, PhD students and project staff met to further dive into this topic and ‘open the black box of infrastructure’.
One of the central points that came out of the readings (Pfaffenberger, 1988; Dajani and Mason, 2018) was the importance to understand technology and infrastructure as intrinsically shaped by social relations. These social relations are often disguised by artefacts’ visibility and materiality, and associated claims about artefacts being ‘just artefacts’ (Pfaffenberger calls this the “fetishization of objects”).
However, we need to consider technological artefacts as the materialization of power relations, morality and ideas about how society should be and behave – what is good, what is bad. Discussed examples for that were the famous bridges of Long Island (which were constructed so low that busses – that were commonly used by lower income groups – could not pass and thus could not access the area); and benches in urban environments that are designed in such a way that people will sit down but homeless persons won’t have the possibility to sleep there.
Beyond the morals and power relations, we also discussed how technology and infrastructure often carry powerful meaning beyond their technical function only. For example, infrastructure projects and the inaugurations thereof are instrumentalized by politicians to gain votes and to show that they are doing ‘a great job’ to the benefit of the people. Of course, this can be highly problematic, leading to conflictive projects that might gain political votes but might, at the same time, have detrimental effects for people and the environment. This makes it even more central to critically deconstruct technologies and infrastructures, their meaning, uses, sustaining discourses and political relations that give shape to them. Last but not least, we also debated about how technology is material and stable, but at the same time dynamic: it is being contested, redefined, and adapted.
This discussion session was only the start of conversations and critical reflections about infrastructure: how infrastructure shapes hydrosocial territories, what environmentally and socially just infrastructure would look like, and how the new water justice movements studied by the Riverhood and River Commons projects engage with riverine infrastructures.
Pfaffenberger, B. (1988). Fetishised Objects and Humanised Nature: Towards an Anthropology of Technology. Man, 23(2), 236–252.
Dajani, M. & Mason, M. (2018). Counter-infrastructure as resistance in the hydrosocial territory of the occupied Golan Heights. In: Menga, F. & Swyngedouw, E. (eds) Water, Technology and the Nation-State. Routledge
By Qinhong Xu and Lena Hommes | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
Lecture with Professor Ana Mariella Bacigalupo
25 February 2022 | Lumen, WUR
The second Riverside Meeting took place on 25 February on campus at Wageningen University, with a lecture from Professor Ana Mariella Bacigalupo. The presentation and discussion that ensued focused on Bacigalupo’s latest article, “Subversive Cosmopolitics in the Anthropocene: On Sentient Landscapes and the Ethical Imperative in Northern Peru” (Bacigalupo, 2021); and an additional reading for the meeting included Adriana Paola Paredes Peñafiel’s and Fabiana Li’s “Nourishing Relations: Controversy over the Conga Mining Project in Northern Peru” (Peñafiel and Li, 2019). Both the articles and the lecture and discussion intersected with one of the four central ontological dimensions of the Riverhood and River Commons projects – that of river-as-subject. In particular, Bacigalupo’s lecture raised interesting questions among the audience about different topics, like the plurality of existing ontologies about Nature and about the role of humans in relationship with Nature. Namely, questions and reflections focused on lively and sentient conceptions of natural entities such as mountains (here represented in the figure of the Apu, according to Peruvian shamans that Bacigalupo engaged with during her research). Some also focused on the role of researchers (anthropologists or otherwise) and their own beliefs and/or practical involvement in the kind of subjects that they are researching on, especially when such subjects may touch upon the borders between – for instance – science and spirituality. This Riverside Meeting was overall an interesting and enriching opportunity to reflect on the abyssal lines (Santos, 2014) between different forms of knowledge; different understandings of the relations between nature and (human) society; and the potential tensions and contradictions that lie not only between divergent worldviews, but also between varying ways of conducting research and producing scientific or academic knowledge.
By Carlota Silva Houart | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
River Commons will implement a long-term international Master students exchange programme. The INREF-collaborating WUR chairgroups and study programs, CEDLA/UvA, WNM-Netherlands and different NGOs around the world will jointly set up this collaboration that focuses on participatory action research, education, and awareness-raising.
The goal of the programme is to foster cross-cultural training and exchange for students from the social and natural sciences. It does so by accompanying students before, during and after their MSc thesis research and providing tools for intercultural communication.
- Preparatory activities include intensive online preparation and in-person interaction where topics such as intercultural communication, community engagement and critical self-reflection are discussed. The aim is to equip students with tools and insights to learn from and with different cultures in creative and inspiring ways.
- Exchange: After the preparation, students will conduct field research abroad for about three months. They will engage with local communities, NGOs and other stakeholders to jointly study innovative river commoning approaches and methodologies. From a participatory action research Students will support and collaborate in riverine grassroot initiatives aimed to protect and restore rivers.
- Networking and conscientization: Upon return, students are expected to communicate and raise awareness on inter-cultural insights to audiences in their home country, for example through experience-discussion meetings on social equality, sustainable water governance and environmental justice.
The main geographical focus will be on Colombia, even though also cases in other countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America can be studied depending on the students’ interests and available host organizations. Students will join in the River Commons and Riverhood PhD projects and experience cross-cultural training and exchange, inspired by community empowerment and knowledge co-production.
Who is involved?
The programme is directed at Master students from WUR, UvA and partners who are interested in studying river co-governance initiatives and processes in a participatory manner.
- WNM (Weeknederlandsemissionaris), WUR Postdocs and CEDLA student/staff, Fundacion Alma and other NGOs will organize workshops and lectures for the preparation phase.
- Casa Migrante (is a non-profit organization that supports Spanish-speaking immigrants who live in and around Amsterdam) will work as a encounter space for intercultural exchange between Latin-American immigrants and students from the north.
In total, there are 48 scholarships available for the coming 4 years (2022 – 2025): 40 scholarships for students from Dutch partner universities and 8 scholarships for Colombian MSc students to conduct research in the Netherlands
If you are interested in participating, please contact the coordinator Bibiana Abadia Duarte. Applications will be received at any time and should include CV and motivation letter. Selection will be made on the basis of the application and a following admission interview.
Bibiana Abadia Duarte (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For more information, see: “RIVER COMMONS Inter-university student and grassroots exchange programme”
In the future, find here publications from the Riverhood and River Commons projects.
This video presents the River Commons project, an integrated research programme aiming to explore the opportunities of river co-governance.
Justicia Hídrica/Water Justice is a international alliance, working on research, capacity building and action. Its objective is to contribute to more water justice, meaning more democratic water policies and more sustainable development practices that promote a more equitable water distribution. It consists of a combination of thematic conceptual work with case studies in Latin American countries and in other continents.
The International WaTERS is an inclusive network and partnership to connect, improve knowledge and build capacity related to water security and governance challenges, especially in the global south. While originally funded by SSHRC in Canada, and led by researchers at the University of British Columbia, we aim to continue to build our network to be inclusive and adaptive in ways that will allow us to evolve and grow in relation to new opportunities.
International Rivers are a global organization. They work with river-dependent and dam-affected communities to ensure their voices are heard and their rights are respected; help to build well-resourced, active networks of civil society groups to demonstrate our collective power and create the change we seek; undertake independent, investigative research, generating robust data and evidence to inform policies and campaigns; remain independent and fearless in campaigning to expose and resist destructive projects and engage with all relevant stakeholders to develop a vision that protects rivers and the communities that depend upon them.
The EJ Atlas collects stories of communities struggling for environmental justice from around the world. It aims to make these mobilization more visible, highlight claims and testimonies and to make the case for true corporate and state accountability for the injustices inflicted through their activities. It also attempts to serve as a virtual space for those working on EJ issues to get information, find other groups working on related issues, and increase the visibility of environmental conflicts.
RIVERS engages with one of the most pressing questions of this century: the relationship between humans and “Nature”. RIVERS has two intertwined core objectives: (1) analysing different ways of knowing and relating to water and life among indigenous peoples and their understanding of its (potential) violation by extractive projects; (2) discussing the contributions, challenges and pitfalls of inter-legal translation of differing water natures in pluri-legal encounters at domestic and international levels.
Not so long ago, most of our rivers were drinkable. Now, almost none. When we will have drinkable rivers again, it means that the watershed, and all natural life in it, is healthy and in balance and all actions contribute to this. We believe that drinkable rivers could be used as a guiding compass for societies, as a replacement of our current focus on economic growth. To achieve this, Drinkable Rivers mobilises people in watersheds to care for their rivers. We engage with government officials, educate children and undertake research with citizens.
NEWAVE is rooted in the conviction that the rising threats of future water crises and hydro-social challenges, present an urgent need to enhance the global capacity to reflect critically on the current water governance trajectory. The NEWAVE project aims to point the way forward in the global debate about water governance and it does so by developing research and training for a new generation of future water governance leaders, and by equipping them with the transdisciplinary skills to better tackle water challenges.
The UNESCO Chair “Fleuves et Patrimoine – River Culture” (headed by Karl M. Wantzen, University of Tours, France) works on the harmonization between human activities and bio-cultural heritage in riverscapes of the Global South and North. Together with the UNESCO Water Family and a global network of academics and stakeholders, studies on on human-river-relationships and sustainable river management are made in the context of the River Culture Concept, including 6 ongoing PhD theses (in India, China, Congo DR, Senegal and Brazil) and a book on “River Culture – Life as A Dance to the Rhythms of the Water”, to appear soon at UNESCO publishing.
The Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) in Western Australia has sustained Indigenous peoples and their societies for millennia. A research project led by scientists at the Australian Rivers Institute, and designed with Traditional Owners of the Martuwarra, has developed powerful new insights into different ways of knowing and valuing water. In addition to generating conventional research outputs, the project used art and storytelling works to depict Indigenous and western scientific ways of understanding and managing water flows. These differences need to be understood and respected if water planning is to have any chance of protecting the Living Waters of the Martuwarra and the life they sustain.
Ríos to Rivers inspires the protection of rivers worldwide by investing in underserved and indigenous youth who are intimately connected to their local waters and support them in the development as the next generation of environmental stewards. Founded in 2012, Ríos to Rivers exchanges’ have connected 196 underserved and indigenous students from 17 endangered river basins in six countries. The programs have included students and community leaders from 12 indigenous nations. Each student participates in two, three-week-long international exchanges. In their first exchange, they are hosted and in the second they become hosts
The Global Water Forum was established in 2010 as an initiative of the UNESCO Chair in Water Economics and Transboundary Water Governance at the Australian National University. In 2016, it expanded to partner with Oxford University. The GWF is an online resource presenting evidence-based, accessible, and freely available articles concerning freshwater science and governance. The site acts as a hub for education resources, and as a forum for the discussion of water challenges and solutions. The central objective of the site is to build the capacity of students, policy-makers, those working in the water sector, and the general public to understand and respond to complex freshwater problems.
Voices of Rivers is a collaborative project of A4C — Arts for the commons (www.artsforthecommons.wordpress.com) launched in occasion of its participation to the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, “rīvus” (2022) — https://www.biennaleofsydney.art. The website is part of the work “Vilcabamba-De iura fluminis et terrae”, a video and audio installation on the rights of rivers. The project collective is composed by a artists, academics, researchers and activists in Latin America, USA, Europe and Australia. A4C dedicates this work in honor and support of water defenders, indigenous peoples, Aboriginal and local communities protecting rivers worldwide.
LANDac is a partnership between Dutch organisations and Southern partners working on land governance for equitable and sustainable development. It was formed in 2010 as one of the IS Academies, a series of five-year programs designed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen the role of knowledge and research in sustainable development, poverty alleviation and international cooperation. The LANDac network brings together actors, conducts research, and distributes information, focusing on new pressures and competing claims on land and natural resources.
- Review: Encuentros de Saberes “Pensar con los Ríos en Colombia”
- El pasado 05, 12, y 19 de agosto de 2021 se llevaron a cabo de manera virtual los encuentros de saberes: “Pensar con los ríos: Transición energética, culturas ribereñas y conservación socioecológica”. Desde el año 2018, el Grupo de estudio Ecología Política y Justicia Hídrica de Colombia (GEEPJH) en alianza con varias organizaciones y colectivos viene organizando encuentros de intercambio y de diálogo entre los movimientos ecoterritoriales, la academia y la sociedad civil sobre distintas problemáticas ambientales. Este año el espacio centró su atención en los ríos, tomando como caso la cuenca del río Magdalena en Colombia, y participaron como co-organizadores el Grupo de investigación Territorio de la Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana sede Medellín, Colombia y el Grupo de Trabajo Ecología(s) política(s) desde Sur/Abya Yala del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales -CLACSO-.
- Book: Hidro-políticas y Territorios Hidrosociales en Rosario y el Río Paraná (Gabriela González, Gustavo Fernetti, Carlos Salamanca Villamizar, Francisco Astudillo Pizarro)
- En esta obra fascinante e inspiradora sobre los territorios hidrosociales en Rosario y el río Paraná, Carlos Salamanca Villamizar, Gabriela González, Gustavo Fernetti y Francisco Astudillo Pizarro han logrado expresar y visibilizar la certeza y complejidad de este entendimiento cardinal de una manera fenomenal. Tal como ellos escriben, “las distintas concepciones en torno al agua son el fundamento de una pluralidad de prácticas y dinámicas sociopolíticas que se despliegan en conflictividades, negociaciones, normalizaciones y alianzas creativas (Pag. 7).
- Opinion piece: Miel II, siguiendo el manual de errores de Hidroituango (Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo)
- En esta columna de opinión la abogada y especialista en derecho ambiental, Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo, explica cómo el proyecto Miel II, que se desarrollaría en el departamento de Caldas, podría afectar la disponibilidad del hábitat y afectar el transporte de sedimentos de los ríos.