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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 (email@example.com)
For more information, see: “RIVER COMMONS Inter-university student and grassroots exchange programme”
Example of a Master’s dissertation that is part of the exchange programme
Provisional title: “What is common? A case study of artisanal fishermen around Canal del Dique”
Student: Niek Schasfoort
Supervisors: Bibiana Duarte-Abadía & Jaime Hoogester
Niek Schasfoort is conducting fieldwork around the Canal del Dique in the North of Colombia. In this area, Niek is talking to artisanal fishermen about the possible impact of the PPP project of the canal on their livelihoods. Through these interviews, he aims to define the areas of the commons for the artisanal fishermen and how they may be affected by the project. Although the project is framed by the designers as an ecological restoration project that will benefit the fishermen, there is a lot of fear and mistrust among the fishermen in the true intention of the project: “ANI commented to us that the project is 90% environmental, 7% infrastructure, and 3% navigability. But I stood up and told them that it is 90% navigability, 7% infrastructure, and 3% environmental” (Fisherman Soplaviento). With this research, Niek’s goal is to shine more light on the people of this area and their concerns and to discuss ways in which the people organize themselves to have their concerns heard and addressed by the government.
Update Master Student Exchange Program River Commons
The group of master students meets at Casa Migrante in Amsterdam, a non-profit organization that supports Spanish-speaking immigrants who live in and around Amsterdam. They already all seem so comfortable as it is not their first time here. The students have become acquainted with some aspects of the South American countries that they will go to for their Master’s thesis or internship. In the encounter space for intercultural exchange between Latin-American immigrants, the students have a last meeting to conclude before they will depart. They are the first group of master students that participates in the River Commons Master Student Exchange Program. After several preparatory meetings during one semester, they are now ready to depart to their different study sites in South America. All with their own focus of study on the main topic of rivers, river co-governance, and water justice movements.
As part of their preparatory activities they not only held discussions about development, positionality, and environmental justice, but they also had a first introduction to Casa Migrante and Parroquia San Nicolas as a dynamic interchange between cultures and knowledge. Collaborating organizations shared real-life examples through presentations and lively discussions on topics such as intercultural communication, community engagement, and critical self-reflection. More than once the question arose: “what will be your role, position, and also, your contribution?” and following “how will this be part of your research”?.
Soon, the students will arrive at their study sites, in Ecuador and Colombia, where they will all conduct their field research. Some focus on more social sciences aspects, others on natural sciences. Still, all of them include cross-cultural exchange, connection, and reflection. For at least 3 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 approach, students will support and collaborate in riverine grassroots initiatives aimed to protect and restore rivers.
In a couple of months from now, upon their return, the students will communicate their learned lessons and intercultural insights to audiences in their home community, for example through experience-discussion meetings on social equality, sustainable water governance, and environmental justice. This intercultural connection is important to all partners: The INREF-collaborating WUR chair groups and study programs, CEDLA/UvA, Week Nederlandse Missionaris, Casa Migrante, Parroquia San Nicolás Amsterdam, and different NGOs around the world. They jointly stress the programs’ focus on issues of North-South solidarities, common good, ethics, human and nature’s rights, social inequalities and discrimination, and the diversity of cultural values, cosmovisions, and spiritual dimensions.
In 2023, the Masters’ exchange program will focus on consolidating the exchange programs’ setup and methodology taking into account the lessons learned from the first cohort. Specifically, the following activities will take place:
- Implementation and consolidation of the program with partner institutes, based on the lessons learned from 2022.
- Supervision of students who are now in the field.
- Establishment of new exchange opportunities with other NGOs and local actors
- Identification and arrangement of the counter-exchange-visit of 8 Colombian students to the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, the students who have arrived in Colombia and Ecuador recently, engage with their host organization partners and exchange with youngsters back home: inspiring stories about intercultural.
ABSTRACT: Megadams are controversial ventures. Despite their contentious benefits, the negative impacts on local communities are enormous. This has prompted substantial disapproval and resistance, particularly from the communities that endure the most of its adverse effects. While many megadams have been constructed in the face of opposition, others have been halted or altered as a result of the fierce protests of affected people and their allies. A better understanding of the latter is key to promoting equitable and just water governance throughout the implementation of hydraulic infrastructure. Based on ethnographic and historical research carried out between 2014 and 2017, the article shows the power relations, social actors and historical-contextual factors that have influenced the development of the Daule-Peripa and Baba megadams on the Ecuadorian coast. From a political ecology and subaltern studies perspective, this article describes and analyses the social, territorial, and historical interconnectedness of the local communities of Patricia Pilar and Daule-Peripa dam in coastal Ecuador that successfully stopped the construction of a dam and had a great influence on its final hydraulic design. I argue that, given the adequate socio-political conditions and a systematic process of knowledge and experience exchange among affected communities, anti-dam struggles can emerge with significant capacity to influence in their favour the megadam implementation processes and other hydraulic infrastructures.
ABSTRACT: Preserving cultural heritage and achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of protecting life below water do not always go hand in hand. The case of the Serpis River sheds light on the political, cultural and legal tensions that may arise when pursuing these two policy goals. To better understand these tensions, we propose acknowledging that rivers are complex natural-cultural systems imagined and shaped through various actors’ values, interests, practices and infrastructures (Boelens et al. 2016). River restoration initiatives generate divisions between actors and institutions with different ways of defining and valuing natural and cultural heritage.
ABSTRACT: Efforts to shape more sustainable and just land and water management practices are increasingly turning to the past for inspiration. However, what the past looked like exactly and what can be learned from it and applied to present-day challenges is not straightforward. Peru is one of those places where reviving ancestral land and water management practices and knowledge has become popular. This article starts with a project that aimed to recuperate ancestral water infiltration structures in the Peruvian highlands. Drawing on interviews conducted shortly after the project’s implementation, the author analyses how history and “the past” are imagined differently by various actors, according to their current worldviews, interests and values. The author unpacks the consequences of these diverse pasts for present-day relations and project implementation, calling attention to the importance of making explicit the “politics of the past,” including how the past is portrayed and by whom, and which past is to be recuperated or revalorized.
ABSTRACT: This paper examines how utopian river planning has arisen in Colombia and Spain since the late nineteenth century. Specifically, the paper contributes to understanding how particular ideologies of modernism and development present in territorial planning connect both countries. Taking Thomas More’s classic work ‘Utopia’ as the analytical reference, I analyze how utopian tendencies have traveled through time and space to shape territorial planning and water governance. In both countries, this was evident in the late nineteenth century through the political project to strengthen the nation state. For Spain, I describe the regenerationist movement and the hydraulic utopia led by the Spanish intellectual Joaquín Costa, who forged the dream of a water nationhood. By contrast, in Colombia, several political intellectuals looked at Europe and North America as a source of inspiration to achieve progress by controlling rivers. Through the method of disjunctive comparison, I show how the same utopian notions are expressed in similar ways in distinct contexts: violently governing the flows of rivers, standardizing minds and ordering territories towards capital growth. This paper contributes to grasping the notions and roots of the discourses that have colonized the political water agendas in both countries.
Hoogesteger, J., Suhardiman, D., Boelens, R., de Castro, F., Duarte-Abadía, B., Hidalgo-Bastidas, J. P., Liebrand, J.W., Hernández‐Mora, N., Manorom, K., Veldwisch, G.J. & Vos, J. (2023). River Commoning and the State: A Cross‐Country Analysis of River Defense Collectives. Politics and Governance, 11(2). https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v11i2.6316
ABSTRACT: Grassroots initiatives that aim to defend, protect, or restore rivers and riverine environments have proliferated around the world in the last three decades. Some of the most emblematic initiatives are anti-dam and anti-mining movements that have been framed, by and large, as civil society versus the state movements. In this article, we aim to bring nuance to such framings by analyzing broader and diverse river-commoning initiatives and the state–citizens relations that underlie them. To study these relations we build on notions of communality, grassroots scalar politics, rooted water collectives, and water justice movements, which we use to analyze several collective practices, initiatives, and movements that aim to protect rivers in Thailand, Spain, Ecuador, and Mozambique. The analysis of these cases shows the myriad ways in which river collectives engage with different manifestations of the state at multiple scales. As we show, while some collectives strategically remain unnoticed, others actively seek and create diverse spaces of engagement with like-minded citizen initiatives, supportive non-governmental organizations, and state actors. Through these relations, alliances are made and political space is sought to advance river commoning initiatives. This leads to a variety of context-specific multi-scalar state–citizens relations and river commoning processes in water governance arenas.
ABSTRACT: En las últimas dos décadas los fondos de agua (FA) han cobrado importancia como mecanismos de conservación del agua y sus fuentes. Éstos promueven una serie de acuerdos entre diversos actores que participan en diálogos sostenidos en contextos de alta desigualdad socioeconómica y política. Así, los FA han logrado conectar a poblaciones peri-urbanas y rurales, habitantes de ecosistemas hídricos estratégicos, con importantes usuarios del agua como ciudades, hidroeléctricas, empresas públicas, privadas y multinacionales, entre otras. Bajo el enfoque de justicia hídrica, este artículo analiza el tipo de participación que tienen los distintos actores involucrados en la co-creación de conocimientos en torno a la seguridad hídrica promovida por distintos FA. El artículo ilustra dos casos de estudio, el primero en Ecuador (Fondo de Manejo de Páramos Tungurahua y Lucha contra la Pobreza (FMPLPT) y el segundo en Colombia (Fondo de Agua de Bogotá). Concluimos que estos FA centran sus esfuerzos en contextos urbanos y poco miran la seguridad hídrica rural.
ABSTRACT: In this opinion piece, we argue for the need to acknowledge, study, and engage with New Water Justice Movements around the world. What we term NWJMs is in fact a colourful assembly of grassroots groups and initiatives, as well as regional networks and nongovernmental alliances, that mobilize to protect or revive rivers, and to challenge dominant ways of understanding, ordering and exploiting rivers and riverine inhabitants. Whereas previous water justice initiatives have mainly focused on issues of fair distribution (of environmental ‘goods’ and ‘bads’) and representation for human groups, the more recently emerging movements also explicitly include nonhuman concerns and intertwine distribution and representation with related struggles for cultural justice and socio-ecological, intergenerational integrity.
ABSTRACT: In this article we introduce the notion of imaginaries as a conceptual entry to study and better understand how and why commons re-create and transform. We do so by first exploring imaginaries as assemblages, and second by analytically dividing imaginaries in dominant and alternative imaginaries. While the former refer to how people imagine and live their social existence around built expectations and their underlying notions, the latter refers to imaginaries that critique instituted society and through it create ‘germs’ that can lead to transformation. Through this lens we analyze contestations that have emerged around the introduction of drip irrigation in two irrigation communities in the Valencia Region of Spain. These two case studies (Carcaixent and Potries) show how, among the commons, alternative imaginaries are challenging the dominant imaginaries of drip irrigation. We show how these alternative imaginaries result from a different way of assembling irrigation and the social, cultural, material, and economic relations around it. These insights, we argue, open up avenues that allow us to better understand the imaginary creations that reproduce a specific existing order, as well as the germ(s) that can lead to transformations and change.
ABSTRACT:Rivers are ecosystems indispensable for the survival of both humans and non-human species. Yet humans often disregard their importance and modify the existing socio-natural equilibrium of rivers in the pursuit of economic and political agendas. With a focus on new water justice movements, this article advocates a perspective that recognizes rivers as hydrosocial territories, actively and continuously co-created, co-inhabited, and transformed by a multiplicity of human and other-thanhuman beings. Such a perspective opens a path to a multispecies justice framework that involves rethinking the relations between human and non-human beings in the worlds we share as a medium for creating more socio-ecologically just and biodiverse water worlds.
Boelens, R., A. Escobar, K. Bakker, L. Hommes, E. Swyngedouw, B. Hogenboom, E.H. Huijbens, S. Jackson, J. Vos, L.M. Harris, K.J. Joy, F. de Castro, B. Duarte-Abadía, D. Tubino de Souza, H. Lotz-Sisitka, N. Hernández-Mora, J. Martínez-Alier, D. Roca-Servat, T. Perreault, C. Sanchis-Ibor, D. Suhardiman, A. Ulloa, A. Wals, J. Hoogesteger, J.P. Hidalgo-Bastidas, T. Roa-Avendaño, G.J. Veldwisch, P. Woodhouse & K.M. Wantzen (2023). Riverhood: Political ecologies of socionature commoning and translocal struggles for water justice. The Journal of Peasant Studies, 50(3), 1125–1156. https://doi.org/10.1080/03066150.2022.2120810
ABSTRACT: Mega-damming, pollution and depletion endanger rivers worldwide. Meanwhile, modernist imaginaries of ordering ‘unruly waters and humans’ have become cornerstones of hydraulic-bureaucratic and capitalist development. They separate hydro/social worlds, sideline river-commons cultures, and deepen socio-environmental injustices. But myriad new water justice movements (NWJMs) proliferate: rooted, disruptive, transdisciplinary, multi-scalar coalitions that deploy alternative river–society ontologies, bridge South–North divides, and translate river-enlivening practices from local to global and vice-versa. This paper’s framework conceptualizes ‘riverhood’ to engage with NWJMs and river commoning initiatives. We suggest four interrelated ontologies, situating river socionatures as arenas of material, social and symbolic co-production: ‘river-as-ecosociety’, ‘river-as-territory’, ‘river-as-subject’, and ‘river-as-movement’.
ABSTRACT: This paper analyses the discussions surrounding dam removal in Spain and, specifically, ongoing contestations around the Toranes Dam. Engaging with scholarship about the temporalities of infrastructure and imaginaries, I show how dam removal is a trend that comes forth from temporally situated and shifting relations in the sociopolitical, technical, financial and environmental networks in which dams are embedded. More than simply a consequence of material decay and expiring use licences, dam removal is also intrinsically related to changing imaginaries about dams, rivers and nature. However, dam removal is contested. Central to it are debates about the definition of, and relations between, nature, society and cultural heritage in the past, present and future. People’s subjectivities – shaped by the dam and its intended and unintended effects on the environment and hydrosocial relations – are also a source of anti-removal mobilisation. The paper demonstrates how dam removal is a fascinating topic that draws attention to the different temporalities dams hold, including the stage of material and potentially also ideological ruin. Dam removal, however, does not (yet?) represent a clear paradigm shift; rather, the reality is messy, with dam construction and removal at times being promoted simultaneously.Download here the photo report.
ABSTRACT: Utopians organized space, nature and society to perfection, including land and water governance – rescuing society from deep-rooted crisis: “The happiest basis for a civilized community, to be universally adopted” (Thomas More, 1516). These days, similarly, well-intended utopian water governance regimes suggest radical transformations to combat the global Water Crisis, controlling deviant natures and humans. In this essay I examine water utopia and dystopia as mirror societies. Modern utopias ignore real-life water cultures, squeeze rivers dry, concentrate water for the few, and blame the victims. But water-user collectives, men and women, increasingly speak up. They ask scholars and students to help question Flying Islands experts’ claims to rationality, democracy and equity; to co-create water ontologies and epistemologies, and co-design water governance, building rooted socionatural commons, building “riverhood”.
ABSTRACT: Infrastructures and their roles and connections to and in territories and territorialization processes have increasingly become objects of study in political geography scholarship. In this contribution, we build on these emerging insights and advance them by further conceptually disentangling the agential role of infrastructure. We bring together the notions of territory, governmentality, imaginaries and subjectivities, to clarify how exactly hydraulic infrastructure acts to transform relations between space, people and materiality. We start by introducing territorialization as a process of ‘ordering things’ in a certain space and time through different techniques of government. We then show how, at the base of such territorialization processes, are imaginaries that contain normative ideas about how space and socio-territorial relations should be ordered. Imaginaries are consequently materialized through hydraulic infrastructure through the inscription of morals, values and norms in infrastructure design, construction and operation. This set of materialities and relations embedded in infrastructure brings changes to the existing relations between space, water and people. In particular, we highlight the repercussions of infrastructure for how people understand and relate to each other, the environment, water, technology and space: in other words, how subjectivities change as an effect of hydraulic infrastructure constitution. Last, we show how infrastructure and the related hydrosocial territories that develop around it are a dynamic arena of contestation and transformation. We argue that socio-material fractures, emerging counter-imaginaries and the disruptive capacities of subjectivities constantly challenge the ‘fixes’ that infrastructures aim to inscribe in hydrosocial territories. Throughout the paper, we use empirical examples from recent research on hydraulic infrastructure and territorial transformations to ground the conceptual ideas.
ABSTRACT: This article analyzes how smallholders of Subtanjalla, in coastal Peru, conceive irrigation water as a central element and carrier of hydrosocial relations and territories. We base our analysis on an exploration of the local notions of agua nueva and yocle. These two notions bind together time, space, nature and culture into specific understandings of territorial connections and reciprocities. Through these understandings water is much more than H2O. Instead of just representing an economic good or a material input for irrigated agriculture water is seen as a binding element that bridges and brings together the Andean world with that of Subtanjalla in the Peruvian coast. Water is, from this perspective, a lively and always in-the-making composition of humans, non-humans, and more-than-humans in which there is no clear distinction between nature and culture, past and present, object and subject. We argue that water as an assemblage opens up now lines of inquiry into hydrosocial territories and relations across time and space through the departure of a fundamentally relational understandings of water, its use and governance.
This book builds a comparative and analytical narrative with a historical basis on the modernist utopian thought that shapes hydroterritorial planning policies in Colombia and Spain. At the same time, it highlights contemporary dystopias and analyses the role of social movements in protecting their rights and reviving the flow of rivers and their territories. The book is the result of Bibiana’s Ph.D. research. It’s available at Ríos, utopías y movimientos sociales – Editorial Abya Yala
Rutgerd Boelens, Juliana Forigua-Sandoval, Bibiana Duarte-Abadía & Juan Carlos Gutiérrez-Camargo (2021). River lives, River movements. Fisher communities mobilizing local and official rules in defense of the Magdalena River. The Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 53:3, 458-476
ABSTRACT: The Magdalena River, Colombia’s main river backbone, features multiple tensions and socio-environmental conflicts. They manifest themselves in the river’s ecological degradation and negatively impact the riparian communities and artisanal fishermen, whose productive activities and rights of access to water are restricted. For these communities, the river is a means of passing down and exchanging knowledge between generations. However, their knowledge and practices are not recognized in the dominant governance processes over the Magdalena River. In an interview with Juan Carlos Gutiérrez-Camargo, environmental activist, researcher and companion of artisanal fishermen, we illustrate the universe of epistemologies and worldviews of these communities. We discuss, from a legal-pluralism perspective, the contradictions between state norms and authorities, parastatal powers, and the customary rights of fishing communities. We analyze how the simultaneous presence of various authorities and the complex, unequal arena of legal, extra-legal and illegal forces, hinders enforcement of fishermen’s customary socio-legal repertoires and also of the Colombian Constitution to protect riverside communities’ human rights. The interview reflects on the great complexity of exercising community leadership, environmental protection and defense of artisanal fishing in the midst of a socio-normative political arena permeated by state abandonment and paramilitary violence. For this reason, the interview stresses the importance of recognizing artisanal fisher collectives as political subjects in river co-governance. It also highlights the ambivalent implications of granting rights to nature and rivers: their meaning, functions and impact depend on their political trajectory and mobilization by grassrooted collectives. Finally, Gutiérrez proposes strengthening knowledge networks to bolster river co-governance where the political-cultural and socio-normative frameworks of riverside communities play a preponderant role.
Rutgerd Boelens (2021). Largescale water infrastructure, territorial transformation and water rights dispossession. In Elgar Encyclopedia of Environmental Law (pp. 425-437). Ed. Joseph Dellapenna & Joyeeta Gupta. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, Cheltenham and Camberley, UK and Northampton MA, USA.
ABSTRACT: This chapter uses a political ecology approach to examine how large dams and megahydraulic infrastructure in many parts of the world dispossess smallholder families and communities of their water and water rights, transforming and disintegrating territories environmentally and socially. It deploys the notion of ‘hydraulic property creation’ to look at the relationships among hydraulic infrastructure development and changing water rights frameworks. It contrasts mega-hydraulic projects that separate designer-builder and user worlds, and user-developed hydraulic systems. It presents important points of attention for more people- and nature-inclusive water governance and hydraulic intervention projects that build on social and environmental justice.
The Seminar “Rivers, Territories and Power: political cartography and alternative hydrosocial representations” is part of the activities of the Riverhood and River Commons projects, organised within the Water Justice Alliance. Participants met to learn about, exchange and deepen alternative hydro-territorial representation practices, concepts and processes that can support more democratic, just and sustainable river co-governance strategies. Interconnecting, interweaving and thus enriching experiences between diverse ‘travelling rivers’ was a central focus of the seminar, which sought to contribute to struggles for environmental justice. Download here the report (in Spanish).
The Secondment was a 2-month course designed to provide Riverhood and River Commons PhD students with action-research tools and experiences in preparation for their actual fieldwork in various countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. In this course, the PhDs developed a short-term action-action project in partnership with local initiatives and institutional actors working on the Meuse River, in the Netherlands. Three excursions, to different locations along the Meuse River, were organized as part of the groups’ assignments. The first excursion was to Limburg; the second, was to Brabant; and the last trip was to Biesbosch. Download here the photo report.
The Seminar Rivers, Commons, Movements took place in Valencia, Spain, and gathered scholars and PhD researchers who focus on theoretical and methodological concepts, strategies and experiences related to studying and supporting evolving ‘river commons’ and new water justice movements (NWJMs), to revitalise rivers. The seminar’s case presentations and research frames and proposals engaged with conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and understanding and supporting river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up. Click here to download the Seminar Rivers, Commons, Movements Report.
World’s rivers are fundamental to social and natural well-being but profoundly affected by mega-damming and pollution. In response to top-down and technocratic approaches, in many places, riverine communities practice forms of ‘river co-governance’, integrating ecological, cultural, political, economic and technological dimensions. In addition, new water justice movements (NWJMs) have emerged worldwide to creatively transform local ideas for ‘enlivening rivers’ into global action and vice versa. The Summer School aimed to provide PhD students who conduct research on these ‘river commons’ and NWJMs with transdisciplinary concepts and approaches for studying their emerging ideas, concepts, proposals and strategies. The different sessions thereby focused on conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and capacity-building for (understanding and supporting) river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up. Click here to download the Summer School Report.
How can we make sure there will still be tuna in our seas in the future? How should we tackle Panama disease, which threatens the banana as we know it? And how can palm oil producers in Indonesia and Thailand make a living in a sustainable way? These are just some examples of subjects investigated in the Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) of Wageningen University. All are linked to the major global issues concerning health, energy, food and water, captured by the UN in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This publication presents a selection of projects funded by INREF, including River Commons, which aim is to support the equitable co-governance of rivers.
The Moving Rivers Webinar Series aims at creating a space for inter(trans) disciplinary dialogue between PhD researchers and project partners: International/national NGOs, water policy and advocacy institutes, government water management institutions, and civil society water platforms. These webinar series take place every two months and seek to actively promote exchanges between theory and practice on river regeneration, social-ecological justice, and the formulation of more equitable water policies. Check the schedule and the links to subscribe here.
WEBINAR SESSION 5 – October 20, 2023
Reflecting on multispecies justice: How can this change the way we relate to rivers?
In the session of the 20th of October, Dr. Harris began by discussing some concepts and approaches from feminist, decolonial, and Indigenous perspectives and ontologies to help rethink our relationships to other species, as well as to rivers and the animals and plants who depend on those waterways. With such overview, we can think expansively about senses of interconnection, mutuality, and relation that might characterize renewed river relationships and practices.
One term that seeks to convey such renewal of relationships and practices is “multispecies justice”. In her PhD research, Carlota Houart is exploring how we can relate to rivers and their biodiverse communities (human and otherwise) from a multispecies justice perspective. What can MSJ look like in practice; and how can it enrich, challenge, and transform social movements that are working for the conservation, restoration, and defense of rivers around the world?
This webinar invited us to look at rivers as more-than-human entities and territories that bring together a diversity of living subjects, lifeways, and interconnected stories of vulnerability, loss, resilience, and survival. By presenting part of her fieldwork experiences with the Piatúa River, in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Carlota argued that members of local Kichwa communities living along this free-flowing river possess a rich multispecies cosmovision. Such cosmovision leads them to protect the river against a planned hydroelectric dam with the explicit purpose of protecting not only their own (human) livelihoods, but also the many other beings who co-inhabit the river; and the river itself. This connects with discussions on care and forms of embodied affect that Dr. Harris had previously approached, showing how everyday ties (e.g. through observing other beings, fishing and hunting, bathing and swimming in the river, learning and implementing conservation practices, and living in the same territory) built over multiple generations of living by a river can lead human communities to rise in defence of multispecies communities when rivers are threatened.
Please download Dr. Harris’s presentation by clicking here.
Carlota Silva Houart
Leila M. Harris
Dr. Leila M. Harris is a Professor at the Institute for Resources Environment and Sustainability (IRES) and the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ) at the University of British Columbia. She also serves as Co-Director for UBC’s Program on Water Governance, is a member of the EDGES research collaborative (Environment and Development: Gender, Equity, and Sustainability Perspectives), and is an Associate of the Department of Geography, and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC. Harris’s work examines social, cultural, political-economic, institutional, and equity dimensions of environmental and resource issues.
WEBINAR SESSION 4 – September 8, 2023
River imaginaries and climate change adaptation in fishermen, farmers’ communities and modellers
The session on the 8th of September critically explored how past-present-future connections of river imaginaries have influenced and are influencing river management in the context of climate change adaptation. Lotte de Jong reflected in particular on the Border-Meuse river trajectory, where a large-scale infrastructure project is implemented as a nature-based solution to climate change. While Carles Sanchis Ibor looked at the issue of rivers not only as flows of water, but also as flows of sediments.
Socio-technical imaginaries have a profound impact on how societies conceptualize and devise approaches to manage the rivers. This includes the promotion of local and community participation in river management decisions. Yet, it is the power and political structure that ultimately influence which imaginaries are to be realized for the development of society. Using a case study approach, Lotte de Jong, in her research articulates the different truth regimes that exist to shape the imaginaries of the communities to control and manage the Meuse River in the Netherlands. The current eco-modernist approach in the Netherlands is to provide room for the river and restore its ecological functions, but still trying to control the river for its navigation purposes. Lotte in her research focuses on the participation of the local communities to come up with alternative mechanisms to make imaginaries more powerful and thereby manage rivers sustainably.
Continuing the imaginary concept and the need to strengthen the participation processes for better practices around rivers, Carles Ibor from Valencia University spoke about the intermittent rivers and ephemeral rivers (IRES) in Spain. IRES have sporadic flows, and the various aquatic and terrestrial species around it adapt to the rapidly changing water conditions. These rivers contribute to water availability, recharge the groundwater, and support biodiversity. Yet they also contribute to various environmental stressors, and therefore, the management and conservation of such rivers require an understanding of their unique characteristics. Ibor specifically spoke about how these rivers have been diverted for irrigation purposes and the channelization and concretization of river banks have led to the Mediterranean IRES as being ‘cyborgs’ or ‘hybrids’. The term cyborgs refers to the blending of the natural river systems with human-made interventions. Participatory processes can help to build imaginaries around rivers for their conservation and restoration and while devising strategies one needs to adopt the cultural-centric view of the river as well. It is also important to keep in mind that the rivers are dynamic systems and they too need time to readjust and re-adapt to interventions and no universal principles are applicable to manage and restore rivers.
Lotte de Jong
Carles Sanchis Ibor
WEBINAR SESSION 3 – June 16, 2023
Rivers as Spaces of Contestations: Citizen Science and Activist Research Approaches
People’s science, citizen science, activist research and science-policy-stakeholder interaction (SPSI) are all different forms of co-production of knowledge. They are gaining increased attention in water management and riverine contestations and conflicts, because of their potential to bring together the lived experiences, knowledges, interests, and values of different stakeholders and produce more syncretic knowledge. This could help in participatory water management, and even be the first step towards conflict transformation. This Moving Rivers webinar session engaged with some of the actual experiences of participatory and activist research in India in the context of groundwater management and riverine conflicts. The session problematized these experiences, especially their participatory and/or co-production character, and explored ways to make them more participatory and transformative.
Indeed, one of the challenges associated with knowledge co-production is that it is always intrinsically a political process of inclusion and exclusion. As such, fundamental questions to raise when addressing different ways of co-producing knowledge include “who is being listened to (or not)?” or “who is considered a (legitimate) knowledge producer, and who isn’t?”. These processes cross the lines of class, gender, ethnicity, species, and others; and they also intersect researchers and research subjects across these dimensions and relations of power. Some of these aspects, particularly in regard to gender and class/caste, were addressed during the webinar, for example in regard to different perspectives, experience or knowledge on groundwater by different actor groups such as engineers and farmers. The epistemic question – namely, what constitutes knowledge – is also central. Ultimately, knowledge is always situated and relational, rendering it crucial to understand the identities and subjectivities of those who are producing it and those who are being produced by it.
Download K. J. Joy’s presentation here.
PhD researcherWageningen University
Tanvi Agrawal is an aspiring human-environment geographer, and a PhD researcher in WUR’s River Commons project. Her work focusses on the political ecology of water science and governance in the Cauvery delta in India.
K. J. Joy, an activist-researcher, works with SOPPECOM, India. His interests include democratization of natural resource governance, water conflicts, environmental justice, social movements and people’s alternatives. He is part of networks like Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India, India River Forum and Vikalp Sangam (Alternative Confluences). His latest co-edited book is Split Waters: The Idea of Water Conflicts.
WEBINAR SESSION 2 – April 28, 2023
Integrating and exchanging knowledge for river co-governance
This session critically reflected on how academics co-produce knowledge through field research in communities dealing with river and water use issues. To illustrate the theme, the session included specific research experiences on wetland restoration in the Middle Magdalena River in Colombia. Juliana Forigua reflected on knowledge production involving fishing communities and feminist approaches. In that, she considered the connection between power, knowledge, and academia, and specifically talked about her involvement in building non-exploitative relationships between researchers and riverine communities.
In social research, who we are influences and determines how we organize reality, as posed by Juliana. Research, therefore, is a reflexive exercise about the authority and political legitimacy of knowledge. Producing knowledge is always a political process, a political decision, and a political commitment. Juliana explained that it is important for her, as a researcher, to bring to the table the structures of feminist political ecology and the practices of caring for oneself and others during fieldwork: this implies bringing into the conversation the politics of empathy and interpretation. To this end, she stressed that it is necessary to emphasize that fieldwork is a social contract between the researcher, social organizations, and academia, hence it is a chaotic and contested terrain in which the researcher’s identity is transformed in relation to others. In the presentation, she also invited masters, PhDs, and early career researchers to go beyond the fixed categories of identity: class, race, gender, and sexuality, to seek positional spaces in which many forms of sameness and difference operate simultaneously. Finally, she highlighted her political engagement with artisanal fishermen’s organizations, amplifying their demands and the importance of building the institutional infrastructure to restore Colombia’s waters.
To delve deeper into the topic, Sergio Villamayor Tomas shared a second experience based on recent efforts to build and institutionalize a data collection mechanism at the national level in collaboration with the Spanish Federation of Irrigation Associations (FENACORE). Research institutes currently face challenges in co-producing knowledge with irrigation associations in Spain due to polarized positions on topics such as dam construction and water transfers, which hinder information sharing.
Sergio presented an overview of the institutional and technical irrigation scenario in Spain. Irrigation is a key sector for river governance in the country and yet little data exists that allows to identify patterns across large numbers of irrigation systems. The researcher went on to present the project called DroughtAdapt which was designed to collect survey data on drought adaptation and irrigation modernization across Spanish irrigation associations, in order to assist decision-making processes within the sector, and particularly in partnership with FENACORE (National Federation of Irrigation Associations). The presentation reflected on the challenges and opportunities of co-producing knowledge with large, highly politicized water governance organizations (like FENACORE). Challenges included going through gatekeepers, promoting participation and gaining trust. Opportunities included the identification of new topics for further collaborative data collection and new data collection strategies that go beyond surveys.
For further information on the presented cases, please download here the presentations:
- Juliana Forigua Sandoval – Juliana is an environmental philosopher and a PhD Researcher in the River Commons Project at Wageningen University and Research (Water Resources Management). She has carried out research in environmental conflicts around seeds and conservation in agrarian contexts, feminist political ecology, environmental democracy and decolonial theories. At this stage, her work is about environmental restorative justice in three degraded swamps of the Magdalena River (Colombia) in alliance with the NGO Fundación Alma and fisher communities associations.
- Sergio Villamayor Tomas – Sergio is senior researcher at the Instituto de Ciencias y Tecnologias Ambientales (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). He has carried out research on community-based irrigation management, environmental justice movements and cross-boundary river governance. Currently he works with Prof. P. Novo and P. Hoffman and the Federacion Nacional de Comunidades de Regantes de España (FENACORE) in a joint endeavor to coproduce information and data about irrigation communities.
WEBINAR SESSION 1 – FEBRUARY 17, 2023
Social mobilizations, environmental and water democracy in Spain and Colombia
This webinar session explored some key questions around water issues, by bringing to the table experiences from civil water networks and movements. How can researchers and activists interact and collaborate in the generation of shared knowledge and understanding of our socio-political-ecological environments? How is information produced and reproduced and how can it be transformed into actionable knowledge? The experience of water-related networked citizen organizations (Citizen water networks) and the New Water Culture Foundation (Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua or FNCA) in Spain can provide some relevant insights. These networks are coalitions of environmental groups, citizen organizations, activists, scholars, local municipalities, and other actors organized to defend the patrimonial values associated with water and river ecosystems.
In this webinar, Nuria presented the Spanish context for water management which has been characterized in the last decades by the strong presence of the public sector in water allocation and management, along with a decentralization process that ended up with the creation of 17 autonomous regions and 13 +8 river basins districts. Most of the Spanish National Hydrologic plans sought to distribute evenly water among the different river basins especially to balance the extra water offered in northern Spain to the water deficit suffered in southern Spain. Therefore, several mega hydraulic works have been built to make interbasin water transfers possible. These decisions were taken with a closed political agenda, mostly ignoring the voices and knowledge of the affected people. In 2001, the announcement of the water transfer from the Ebro river to the south unleashed national social mobilization and contestations. The emerging riots claimed a fair water democracy in which different opinions from the people were included in the new water policies. Thus, the new water culture movement arose, it is a coalition between scholars and local social struggles. During the last twenty years, this movement has been questioning traditional authority, contesting dominant discourses and values, and creating alternatives and approaches to include emotional, cultural, ecological, caring, and dignity values in the hydro-socio territorial plans. These new proposals have been supported by the European Commission and the Water Directive Framework. Figure 1 shows the water paradigm shift proposed by the New Water Culture.
In Colombia, the formation of these diverse justice networks is more recent. They have emerged in the last 10 years. Ana’s presentation rose questions such as, How can legal mobilization contribute to advancing environmental justice? What is the role of academia in such strategies? What are the main challenges of doing politically engaged research?
The case for the defense of La Miel river shed some light on understanding how those queries play out in the resistance against hydroelectric projects. In the East of the Caldas (Colombia), peasant communities have organized and mobilized to reject the construction of new hydroelectric projects in their territory. For the defense of La Miel river, they have created alliances with environmental groups, academics, and lawyers and have filed several legal actions such as ‘tutela’ and popular actions. Cooperation between social movements and academia can potentially strengthen Grassroots Water Justice Movements. However, such alliances do not come free from challenges and dilemmas: What to do if your research is disregarded for being ‘too political’ or biased? What are the implications of translating complex social realities into legal texts? How to deal with unequal power relations within communities? How to deal with your privilege? This presentation invited us to think about those questions, which are relevant for researchers seeking to create bridges between academia and social movements.
Ana’s heart research is to understand the different ways in which law is mobilizing social contestations. In this sense, water democracy in Colombia is being shaped by the mobilization of peasants, indigenous, and affected inhabitants by the construction of the hydraulic project. Popular consultation is a legal and participatory mechanism often used by local communities to protect their territorial, environmental, and social rights against the arrival of new projects in their living places.
For further information on the presented cases, please download here the presentations:
- Nuria Hernandez-Mora
Researcher, consultant and activist – Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, Spain
Nuria Hernández-Mora is a researcher, consultant and activist. Her work focuses on water governance, policy evaluation and design, institutional analysis, water economics, public participation and drought and scarcity in Spain and the EU.
- Ana Arbelaez Trujillo
PhD researcher, Riverhood – Wageningen University
Ana María Arbeláez-Trujillo is an Environmental Lawyer and PhD Researcher at WUR (part of the Riverhood project). Her research interests include environmental justice, political ecology, rural development, and critical legal studies.
- Rutgerd Boelens
Professor – Wageningen University and CEDLA University of Amsterdam
Rutgerd is professor at Wageningen University and CEDLA University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on political ecology, water governance, cultural politics, governmentality and social mobilization. He coordinates the Justicia Hídrica alliance and the Riverhood and River Commons programs.
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The Riverside Meetings take place every 3 weeks at river–sides, in bars, or during excursions to river landscapes. Participants of the meetings discuss and gain a deeper understanding of selected key literature related to conceptual and methodological topics relevant to the River Commons and Riverhood projects; learn about relevant historic and ongoing scholarly debates, with special attention to disruptive theorization (beyond mainstream); get familiar with water management approaches in the Netherlands and other countries; learn from multi-stakeholder/grassroots movements about co-learning practices and processes. The meetings are meant to provide PhD candidates with literature, knowledge, thoughts, and questions that are helpful and enriching for their individual research projects.
Overall reflection on the Riverside Meetings
After all of the Riverside Meetings, the PhDs prepared a general reflection relating the readings and discussions with each other, and their proposals. As an example of these reflections, we present below the one elaborated by the Riverhood PhD candidate Carolina Cuevas.
Riverside Meeting: “The subversive politics of sentient landscapes”
Date: February 17, 2022
Engaging with what has been considered the “ontological turn” in social sciences, the three articles discussed during this Riverside meeting, allowed me to pose compelling questions regarding the “River as subject” ontology that is part of the conceptual scaffold of the Riverhood project. The question on sentient landscapes’ capacities to “sense, feel and act upon people” (Bacigalupo, 2021, p.176) challenges modern-colonial Western understandings of personhood and moral value and agency, and enables the possibility of mountains, rivers and other non-human riverine beings to become relevant and collaborative actors in contemporary political struggles. However, as Bacigalupo herself argues, examining closely how landscapes such as mountains (apus for the poor mestizos of the valleys of La Libertad) acquire moral agency for certain communities from either a radical ontology approach (that claims that sentient landscapes inhabit a radically different world that is incommensurable with modern socio-political domains) or a political ecology approach (that seeks to unravel the power relations embedded in socio- environmental struggles) is insufficient to understand how mountains (or, in our case, rivers) become moral agents for socio-environmental justice. Tracing how apus are incorporated into environmental movements beyond a merely rhetorical device required for the author to highlight the “practical dimensions of moral reasoning” (Bacigalup, 2021, p.182) and to document what kind of relationship people maintain not only with the actual apus, but with other people, plants, animals, and rocks that compose the territory. This is very relevant for my own research project, given that I will engage with the practical and material dimensions of caring socio-environmental relations, which also pertain environmental ethics and morality.
In a similar vein, the question of divergent relations to the landscape appear as central to Paredes & Li (2019), who explore people’s engagement with the Mamacocha lagoon in the midst of a severe conflict with mining companies. Their approach is relevant for my project as they also highlight the centrality of world-making practices in trying to understand people’s relationship with water, as practices are context-specific, contested, fluid, and even ambiguous. Their interest in practices makes evident how it is necessary to attend to the materiality of these relations and how they are transformed by the material and discursive irruption of the mine. In the case of my own research, examining why people consider important to care for a river —and the underlying different ontologies of practices of care— will hopefully reveal complex relationalities that, just as Paredes and Li (2019) argue, may challenge the dominant human/non-human distinctions of modern politics. Complementing the more “ontological” approach of this two readings, the paper
“Cultural politics and the hydrosocial cycle” (Boelens, 2014), argues for a political ecology approach that critically examines the conceptual, cultural and political frameworks that seek to stabilize both humans and non-humans in a dominant “water order”. Such water order is always a material-discursive dynamic constellation of ideas, rules, practices, infrastructures, and crucially “water-truths”, that are mobilized to naturalize and depoliticize the socio-ecological “natural” order framing it as self-evident and unquestionable. Bringing into the discussion the truth- knowledge-power conceptual triangle to unravel the water-worlds and relational ontologies I will encounter along my research is crucial to analyze how caring relations are embedded in contested water-power-knowledge hierarchical regimes.
Bacigalupo, Ana Mariella. (2021). “Subversive Cosmopolitics in the Anthropocene: On Sentient Landscapes and the Ethical Imperative in Northern Peru”. Published in Climate Politics and t he Power of Religion. Ed. Evan Berry. Indiana University Press.
Boelens, R. (2014) “Cultural politics and the hydrosocial cycle: Water, power and identity in the Andean highlands”. Geoforum 57 (2014) 234–247
Paredes Peñafiel, P. & Li, F. (2019) “Nourishing Relations: Controversy over the Conga Mining Project in Northern Peru”, Ethnos, 84:2, 301-322
Riverside Meeting: “Future Imaginaries on rivers”
Date: March 16, 2022
Continuing with the discussion on the material-discursive co-production of place, this Riverside meeting highlighted the role of (future) imaginaries in shaping people’s subjectivities and relations to place, specifically in the context of extractivism and climate change. Foregrounding the importance of studying “futures” —be them probable, possible, preferable, present or alternative— (Marien, 2009), this session invited us to think carefully on the temporal and imaginary dimension of rivers. Using the concept of temporal enclosures to analyze how mining companies “transmit images about the future that favour mining” (p.12), Jaramillo and Carmona (2022) scrutinize the complex ways through which dominant imaginaries are deployed and materially inscribed as an attempt to control the narratives of the future of a given place. Such an attempt to control and govern the future, and even intervene in “the ontology of time itself” (p.12) —presenting it as linear, fixed and inevitable— is a crucial aspect of extractivism, and it involves a set of intertwined knowledge-production processes such as modelling, risk-management, and calculation. According to the authors, controlling the expert discourse that seems to “factually” support a favorable scenario, the extractive industries may even deploy participatory tools and social mapping to justify the “participatory futures” they are able to promise and achieve. Emphasizing two crucial component for my own research project, the authors point out 1) the role of expert knowledge and the manyfold knowledge production practices regarding hydrology, ecology, geology, that converge in the attempts to legitimize the promised future-scenario that the mining project entails, and 2) the role of future-oriented affects that are also involved in how people respond to the both the hopeful promises and the uncertainties of a major socio-environmental transformation.
Attending to the ways through which those in power attempt to foreclose imaginable alternative river-futures is necessary to also trace how “other imaginaries” resist —materially and discursively— to those attempts. Situating their argument in how imaginaries are mobilized, contested and resisted in the current climate crisis, Davoudi and Machen (2021), argue for a co- productionist approach to climate imaginaries. This approach understands the discursive-symbolic and material aspects of imaginaries in a continuous process of co-production, and thus highlights the importance of ideas, stories, and metaphors, as well as infrastructures, technology, tools, and other “material” elements. Because imaginaries have been primarily understood as symbolic, the authors foreground the role of the material “within the production and circulation of climate imaginaries by employing the concept of ‘medium’ , which we understand as an ensemble of material, infrastructural, discursive, and practice-based influences.” (Davoudi and Machen, 2021, p.4). From this mediation-oriented understanding of imaginary (extrapolated to the contested river-imaginaries we are examining in the Riverhood project), I found many connections to the concept of hydrosocial territories (Boelens et al., 2016), specially in their acute attention to the contested socio-technical practices that materially make and discursively make-sense of a territory’s space-temporalities.
Davoudi, S., & Machen, R. (2021). “Climate imaginaries and the mattering of the medium”. Geoforum, 137, 203-212
Jaramillo, P., & Carmona, S. (2022). “Temporal enclosures and the social production of inescapable futures for coal mining in Colombia”. Geoforum, 130, 11-22.
Marien, M. (2010). “Futures-thinking and identity: Why “Futures Studies” is not a field, discipline, or discourse: a response to Ziauddin Sardar’s ‘the namesake’”. Futures, 42(3), 190-194.
Riverside Meeting: “Water, infrastructure, power”
Date: June 2, 2022
Riverside Meeting: “Counter-cartographies”
Date: June 30, 2022
When approaching rivers as socio-natural assemblages composed of techno-social and bio- physical dynamic interactions, it is crucial to consider the role of technologies and the ways they shape (and are shaped by) multiple visions and modes of life. Considering technology as simultaneously material, social and symbolic (and not merely a material object void of social meaning) allows us to pay attention to how it provides structure and meaning to human life through specific socio-political visions that are woven into it (Pfaffenberger, 1988). This means that technology is never politically neutral and, on the contrary, as it becomes part of daily life, it tends to “harden” and hide the social processes and choices through which it acquired —and continues to reproduce— a dominant set of uses, social relations, exclusions, and meanings. According to Pfaffenberger, the task of an anthropology of technology would be to unveil these processes and to critically examine what are the effects of certain technologies in a given society or community, specially since successful technologies become mystified and naturalized black boxes that “render invisible the social relations from which [they] arise and in which any technology is vitally embedded.” (Pfaffenberger, p. 242).
One of the most revealing examples of how technology operates as a set of “hardened” social relations and meanings is hydraulic infrastructure. Analyzing the case of Israel’s attempt to transform water infrastructure in Golan Heights as a means to exert colonial domination, appropriation of land, and the subordination of Indigenous people, Dajani & Mason (2018) offer an illustration of how people respond to a dominant hydrosocial order that relies heavily on infrastructure. According to these authors, “the configuration of hydrosocial domination is enacted by state appropriation of land and water resources, providing settlers with continuous, subsidised and connected water infrastructure, whilst systematically denying equal water access to the non- settler indigenous population” (Dajani & Mason, p.132). Such complex processes of domination, inequality and exclusion are embedded in the artificial lakes, dams, and reservoirs that are being built across the occupied territories. Yet, the authors impel us to also consider how alternative hydrosocial realities are also being built and sustained through counter-infrastructures even if more precarious and even residual (Dajani & Mason, 2018). This attention to what remains and resists despite (settler-colonial) socio-environmental transformations and processes of exclusion can support us in our efforts to understand how rivers are crucial sites for power disputes that involve water flows, infrastructures, and social, ideological and symbolic contestation.
Just as water infrastructure, the role of cartography and mapping techniques should be equally examined, as maps also operate as artifacts that may reproduce or challenge dominant social orders. Acting as a sort of technology that produces, conceptualizes and organizes space, maps are not neutral nor “simple representations of a supposedly legible reality” (Oslender, 2021, p.2). On the contrary, maps are the result of a series of ideological choices, life-experiences, and ways of relating to the world, that usually appear hidden in the “final” output. According to Oslender (2021), as a key component of euro-centric colonial enterprises, maps have been a central tool in the colonization of our cartographic and geographical imaginations. As social scientists interested in researching rivers, we are interested in understanding how people produce and experience riverine spaces across scales and layers that extend from the everyday life, participant’s identities and embodied experiences to wider structural oppressions (Gieseking, 2013). And for this, mapping turns out to be a very promising method. However, as provoked by these readings, our research should also take into consideration how maps are used to (re)produce hegemonic representations of space and time, occluding the many alternative possibilities of representation that may emerge from people’s imaginations and memories. In this sense, Oslender (2021) encourages us to acknowledge the long-standing existence of riverine “cartographies otherwise”, as well as the more contemporary efforts to imagine emancipatory counter- cartographies (that may present us with a fluid bottom-up “informational chaos of rivers, mountains, resources, animals, peoples, and cultures” [Oslender, p.4]).
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
Gieseking, J.J. (2013). “Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components”. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(9) 712– 724
Oslender, O. (2021). “Decolonizing cartography and ontological conflict: Counter-mapping in Colombia and “cartographies otherwise”. Political Geography 89: 102444
Pfaffenberger, B. (1988). “Fetishised Objects and Humanised Nature: Towards an Anthropology of Technology”. Man, 23(2), 236–252.
By Carolina Cuevas | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
Fundación Alma’s work over Magdalena River – Lecture by Juan Carlos Gutiérrez
18 November 2022 | Gaia WUR, Wageningen
On November 18, 2022, Juan Carlos Gutiérrez, who is an anthropologist, researcher, and director of Fundación Alma (Colombia), presented the themes of research work on artisanal fishing of this foundation. Also, he described the processes carried out by him and his team to strengthen the governance of the Magdalena River from methodologies based on Participatory Action Research (PAR) with artisanal fisher communities and social organizations. Gutiérrez discussed the biocultural systems of artisanal fisheries in the Magdalena River, its aquatic ecosystems, and wetlands.
Fundación Alma is a non-governmental organization (NGO) that conducts interdisciplinary research from the social and natural sciences with the intention of making political intervention in the Magdalena River. Simultaneous and interrelated objectives motivate the research, and the social and political agenda of the foundation: 1) the restoration of riparian forests, floodplains, and uplands of the river from artisanal fishing and agroecological projects such as productive gardens and seed conservation; 2) the construction and strengthening of productive practices complementary to artisanal fishing from sustainable agriculture; and 3) the promotion of political advocacy and governance of the river from the recognition of artisanal fishing as an immaterial heritage of Colombia. These objectives have been transformed and consolidated in the Special Safeguard Plan (PES, by its acronym in Spanish).
The main objective of the PES is to support the historical struggles of fisher communities and their hydrosocial territory based on the recognition of the fisher communities as cultural subjects with political rights. Fundación Alma is articulated with different local, national, and international actors to achieve this political recognition at the national level. This implies the recognition of the symbolic, material, social and political relationships of fisher communities with the Magdalena River (Boelens et al, 2021). From the vindication of the amphibian culture and the existence of water’s people (los pueblos del agua), Fundación Alma seeks that Colombia heals and settles the historical debts with fisher communities. It is important to mention that on December 6, 2022, artisanal fishing on the Magdalena River was declared immaterial heritage of Colombia by the National Council of Cultural Heritage.
Gutiérrez also discussed that the process of fishing patrimonialization and the recognition of the fishers as political subjects has been carried out jointly with the participatory analysis of social cartography and the understanding of the acuatorios, a concept coined by the researcher to talk about the aquatic territories of fishers (Gutiérrez, 2016). Thus, the comprehension of the non-static dynamics of the river is relevant and essential to understanding the geography of the Magdalena through dynamic maps. In addition, it will contribute to the recovery of lost histories of fisher communities, which have been affected by the armed conflict, the land accumulation through dispossession mechanisms, the infrastructures that affect the connectivity of the river, and the extractive projects that ignore the sessions of the river, the variability of the climate and the socioecological complexities of the river.
Boelens, R., Forigua-Sandoval, J., Duarte-Abadía, B., & Gutiérrez-Camargo, J. C. (2021). River lives, River movements. Fisher communities mobilizing local and official rules in defense of the Magdalena River. The Journal of legal Pluralism and unofficial law, 53(3), 458-476.
Gutiérrez Camargo, J. C. (2016). Río Magdalena, Bien Común. De acuatorios y sistemas de producción en paisajes y geografías del agua.
By Bibiana Duarte Abadia | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
A river with rights and in constant dispute, The Atrato river basin, Colombia – Lecture by Sandra Liliana Mosquera
17 November 2022 | Gaia WUR, Wageningen
The declaration of the Atrato river as a subject of rights was given by the Constitutional Court of Colombia in the 2016 Sentence T-622, being the first case for the country. The ongoing humanitarian crisis, the environmental depletion of the river body, its resources, and the basin’s ecosystems previously led to consecutive legal claims against the State, triggering this novel legal model where the river has rights.
In this talk, Sandra Liliana Mosquera (PhD researcher at IRI THESys, HUB) presented the case through the lens of hydrosocial territories (Boelens et al., 2016) and linked the proposed legal model of river rights with elements of territorial pluralism. She highlighted the divergent territorial interests of multiple actors in the basin and how the T-622 ruling has changed or reinforced their forms of participation and negotiation. At the same time, she critiqued the complexity of implementing river rights at different scales, especially in a region where ethnic groups are reasserting their ancestral Afro-Colombian and indigenous territoriality that was recognized in the 1990s (Agnew & Oslender, 2010).
“Rights of the river” is setting up a new governance model along the whole Atrato river basin. It has implied a complex social organization process among peasants, afro and indigenous communities, triggering micropower conflicts. Liliana has been working directly with the guardian’s board, divided into two instances: communitarian and state guardians. Specifically, she has examined the organizational process of these guardian’s boards throughout the judgment process. Besides, Liliana stated that the guardians represent the river’s voice; besides taking care of it, they must transmit messages among the different organizations (14) along the river. Based on the hydrosocial territories approach, she analyzed how the different imaginaries (war, state, community-based organizations) have changed in the Atrato river through this judgment process.
Liliana showed the timeline of the main events, critical moments, and main results of this process from its beginning, in 2017, to the present. She compared these events with the orders given by the Constitutional Court. She paid special attention to the implementation struggles and the theoretical discussion of the rights of nature and how these are embedded in the collective territories of black communities and indigenous peoples. The case of the Atrato river has a unique feature that makes it different from other world river cases. It is the construction of a biocultural rights framework. However, indigenous communities are uncomfortable with this judgment process and want to shape another.
Agnew, John, Ulrich Oslender, and Ulrich Oslender. 2010. ‘Territorialidades superpuestas, soberanía en disputa: lecciones empíricas desde América Latina’. Tabula Rasa, núm. 13, julio-diciembre, pp. 191-213
Boelens, Rutgerd, Jaime Hoogesteger, Erik Swyngedouw, Jeroen Vos, and Philippus Wester. 2016. ‘Hydrosocial Territories: A Political Ecology Perspective’. Water International 41 (1): 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/02508060.2016.1134898.
Note: these partial results are framed in the Research doctoral proposal: Hydro-social territorialisation in the Atrato River Basin, Colombia. Supervised by Prof. Dr. Tobias Krüger at IRITHESys, Humboldt Univerzität zu Berlin.
By Bibiana Duarte Abadia | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
“The unbearable lightness of climate populism” with prof. Erik Swyngedouw
22 September 2022 | Grandcafé Loburg, Wageningen
On Thursday, September 22, the Riverhood and River Commons team met for a PhD-Masterclass with Prof. Erik Swyngedouw (Professor of Geography, University of Manchester) at the Grandcafé Loburg in Wageningen. In his talk, prof. Swyngedouw discussed how his life-long interest in processes of politicization —that is, the processes through which we socially organize to change our socio-ecological conditions— led him to interrogate the irreconcilable gap between “knowing” and “acting” in our current climate crisis. How is it that we know so much about climate change, greenhouse emissions, and CO2, and yet our actions don’t seem to lead to the “desired” socio-ecological transformations? Departing from the recognition of this gap, prof. Swyngedouw invited us to reflect on the performative effect of political ecology’s (and other disciplines) critical insights. If, he argued, critical knowledge does not self-evidently translate into transformative action, what are we actually doing? Is it possible that critical theory is subconsciously attached to the very problem it sets itself to solve? Is it possible that we find enjoyment in sustaining the status quo? These thought-provoking questions led to a discussion on the role of critical knowledge in our current socio-ecological crisis. If we —as political ecologists, as activist-researchers— are committed to transforming the plurality of power relations that configure the present socio-ecological conditions, we need to question the belief that knowledge itself will achieve this.
Following this invitation to self-reflect on the articulation between critical knowledge and political transformative action, the discussion posed a few central questions for our current research endeavors: How do we account for the resistance that emerges from those places where the “climate apocalypse” has already happened? How do we shift our vantage point to change the master narrative of the disaster-to-come? What other socio-ecological systems are possible and necessary for us? How do we articulate them? And what are the political imaginaries that could orient “us” to achieve this?
For the second part of his visit, prof. Swyngedouw presented the public conference “The unbearable lightness of climate populism (the depoliticization of the environment)” based on a homonymous recently published paper. Mobilizing a Lacanian psychoanalytical perspective to address what he calls “climate populism”, prof. Swyngedouw posed a series of critical arguments around the current climate discourses. Grouped around the consensus that the climate emergency is the utmost urgent problem of our times, these discourses — both mainstream and radical, left and right— are also trapped within the cognitive dissonance between “knowing” and “acting”. Considered “too big or too threatening to be symbolically articulated” (Swyngedouw, p.2), our current socio-ecological crisis leads to the displacement of our desire to build a politically egalitarian, ecologically sensible and socially inclusive world into a manageable “small” entity called CO2. In this sense, CO2 operates as a “fetish object”. It allows us to deny the Real problem, and build fantasies, apocalyptic future scenarios and promises around it (“We need to tackle CO2, and then everything will be solved”), that then mobilize a complex apparatus of techno-managerial solutions to address “the problem”.
Discussing the four forms of discourse through which such climate populism and techno-managerial apparatus are structured, opened up new interrogations on our role as critical and politically committed activist-researchers. Revolving around the Master-discourse that frames climate change as a problem-to-come for which there is an existing solution within the current structural parameters, our “hysterical” critical discourse requires self-scrutiny. According to prof. Swyngedouw’s analysis, even if we are invested in questioning, criticizing, and uncovering the Master’s narratives’ mechanisms, we are also potentially reproducing “the existing power configurations that produced the problem in the first place” (Swyngedouw, p.14).
This conversation motivated additional pressing questions for our riverine investigations: How do we learn, then, from the failures and limitations of critical theory to overcome the Master-discourse, the fetishization of CO2, and climate-apocalyptic narratives? How do we undertake our research from the acknowledgment that the climate catastrophe has already happened? How do we re-politicize our imaginaries to open up “different political-ecological trajectories” (Swyngedouw, p.15)?
Swyngedouw, E. (2022). The unbearable lightness of climate populism, Environmental Politics, vol. 31
By Carolina Cuevas | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
A debate around “Dams, Rivers and Rewilding Dams”
30 August 2022 | Impulse, WUR
Contestations around water infrastructures shape many debates around water governance and cut across our river research projects. The 7th riverside meeting was a fruitful space to share ideas on how water infrastructures, which embody specific visions and projects about development, can trigger diverse social movements and forms of resistance in different geographies.
The debate around “Dams, Rivers and Rewilding Dams” took place on 30 August 2022, at the Impulse Speakers Corner of Wageningen University. Dr. Barbara Hogenboom opened the session with a presentation of two books by postdoc researchers, Dr. Juan Hidalgo and Dr. Bibiana Duarte. Both authors analyse the power-water-technology nexus and how utopian ideas seek to order society through water management. Hidalgo’s work focused on three dams built in Ecuador in different political moments: developmentalism, neoliberalism, and progressivism. His work sought to unravel the impact of power dynamics on design decisions and how continuities and discontinuities in political dynamics affected the development of the dams. Duarte’s work explored how utopian dreams impose a universalising world-view, which in the two cases she investigated (Guadalhorce river in Spain and Middle Magdalena in Colombia) resulted in a rupture of the social fabric and large dispossession of local communities. These books triggered diverse questions: how to address uneven interests and positions regarding water infrastructures within local communities and how to position ourselves as researchers in such a myriad of interests and perspectives?
The second speaker of the session was Frank Westerman, who presented his recently published work “Too true to be good”. His book talks about the removal of two hydroelectric dams on the Selune river, namely, the Vezins (36 meters) and the La Roche Qui Boit (16 meters), within the re-wilding effort to have a free-flowing river and restore the riparian ecosystem according to the provisions of the EU Water Framework Directive. The author reflected on how the removal of these dams encountered robust social resistance from residents of the Sélune and Vezins. They have lived around the reservoirs all their life and disagreed with such massive intervention in their villages. Citizens organised themselves in a group called “Amis des barrier”, to challenge the dam removal operation, arguing that the damns were not only part of their landscape but also a key source of income. Westerman also adopted a critical position toward the dam removal initiative, opening the debate about who has the authority to define what nature is and how to restore the landscape to its previous state if there are no memories of how it looked before the construction of the dams. These thought-provoking points lead the audience to reflect on the dynamics around grassroots populist counter-movements and how to balance social demands with nature protection and new legal figures such as rights of nature.
Finally, Dr. Lena Hommes presented her recently defended PhD dissertation “Infrastructure Lives”, which studied water and territorial transformations in Turkey, Peru, and Spain. Dr Hommes analysed how material and symbolic identities shape political processes and contestations around dam construction and removal. An essential element within her analysis is how imaginaries evolve through the different time stages of infrastructure: design, development, and removal. In this regard, defining when infrastructure is obsolete has become a contested issue, as exemplified by the Torranes dam case. Although the dam was no longer producing energy, local irrigators used it for irrigating their orchards. For them, this infrastructure was still alive. As with the case of the Sélune river, the social resistance against dam removal in Torranes highlights how debates around water infrastructures embody broader societal discussions on legitimacy and social justice: What are the vested interests in maintaining or removing a dam? Who decides the prevalence of environmental values over cultural ones? Who has the legitimacy to decide what nature is worth protecting? How do we overcome nature-society binaries?
The closing discussion between the PhD researchers and the speakers revolved around how to re-think nature-society relations overcoming the myths of utopian development on the one hand and pristine nature on the other. Although apparent tensions and contradictions between the so-called red (social) and green (environmental) demands, it is key to consider those aspects as interdependent. Therefore, when criticising mainstream and elitist environmentalism that does not reflect on systematic injustices, we must be careful and “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. For many years, environmentalism movements, especially those led by historically marginalised populations, have called attention to the intersectionality between the environmental crisis and other forms of oppression, such as colonialism, classism, and racism. Besides, factors such as climate change and biodiversity loss made it clear that we need to transform our relationships with ecosystems and other living beings on the planet. A central challenge for our research is to promote future conversations and alliances in that direction: establishing new ways of relating, being, and dreaming of the nexus of nature-technology and society.
By Ana Maria Arbelaez-Trujillo and Sarita Bhagat | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
“Commons relations: CONFIANZA” and “A counter geography of water”
30 June 2022 | CEDLA, Amsterdam
During our 6th Riverside Meeting on June 30, we discussed the importance of ‘confianza’ with Prof. dr. Michiel Baud, and explored the possibilities of counter cartographies with Prof. dr. Edward Huijbens.
As a rhizome, we explored the multiple and non-hierarchical relations and conceptualizations of ‘confianza’ as a way of commons-relations, as principle in itself and as an expression of solidarity networks with all its connecting implications.
The second part of the session was focused on territorial transformations through cartography as a contested practice, understanding different ways of how mapping can be a political declaration and an act of resistance to create alternative cartographies based on other ways of understanding the world.
Finally, we put in practice the discussed counter-mapping insights by walking around a section of the Amstel river and looking at the urban-cultural landscape through different lenses: How would the state represent the river? How we could represent commoning values through a map? What would be important to visualize for workers, feminist or minorities?
Gieseking, J.J. (2013). Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(9) 712– 724
Oslender, O. (2021). Decolonizing cartography and ontological conflict: Counter-mapping in Colombia and “cartographies otherwise”. Political Geography 89: 102444
By Catalina Rey Hernandez and Laura Giraldo Martinez | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
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
Rijn River Walk
28 April 2022 | Wageningen
By Carolina Cuevas | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
Climate change adaptation under multiple interpretations of reality
16 March 2022 | Orion, WUR
In this Riverside meeting, we met to share, discuss and reflect on future imaginaries of rivers based on Lotte de Jong’s (PhD Researcher/River Commons) research proposal titled “Climate change adaptation under multiple interpretations of reality”. Lotte argued that climate change adaptations have influenced river management and that diverse future imaginaries co-exist and are contested in the discourse and political activity of water governance (Davoudi & Machen, 2021). She will work on the Meuse River (The Netherlands) and the Magdalena River (Colombia). During the presentation, the researcher discussed provocative ideas regarding numerical models, infrastructures and negotiations of different imaginaries in participatory modeling practices. Finally, Lotte closed her presentation highlighting the importance of deconstructing river models to identify the power relations that are embedded in these processes.
Several ideas, concepts and questions emerged from the presentation. From the discussion, I will highlight three aspects that I consider the most relevant: the criticism of the models used on climate change adaptation projects, the role of the future, and the reflections on the fishing communities of Magdalena River. Regarding the models, we discussed that they bring with them knowledge claims that justify and validate infrastructure interventions. Although the models are presented as objective tools, they are formulated with concrete interests and are part of power-knowledge relations. Climate change models are ideal tools for understanding or studying the future, i.e., the projections, dreams, and ideas that decision-makers have about the future and the hegemonic discourses that are imbricated in such projections (Marien, 2010). Finally, we discussed the case of the Magdalena River and the fishing communities that are of special interest to the researcher, in order to analyze imaginaries that contest hegemonic visions about the river and the future (Jaramillo & Carmona, 2022). Specifically, we discuss the complexity of the fishing communities, their micropolitics, and the social intersections of the different social groups that compose such communities. We conclude that it is necessary to not essentialize communities and to be open to understanding them from their disparities, differences, and internal particularities.
Jaramillo, P., & Carmona, S. (2022). Temporal enclosures and the social production of inescapable futures for coal mining in Colombia. Geoforum, 130, 11-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2022.01.010
Davoudi, S., & Machen, R. (2021). Climate imaginaries and the mattering of the medium. Geoforum. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.geoforum.2021.11.003
Marien, M. (2010). Futures-thinking and identity: Why “Futures Studies” is not a field, discipline, or discourse: a response to Ziauddin Sardar’s ‘the namesake’. Futures, 42(3), 190-194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2009.11.003
By Juliana Forigua Sandoval | 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
27 January 2022 | Renkumse Beekdal, Renkum
A central point of the Riverside Meetings discussions has been the concept of ‘commons’ as the notion of self-governance arrangements of collective goods/resources that are not privately held and can be tangible or intangible (De Moor, 2011). Therefore, for our first Riverside Meeting we went on a field visit to the Renkum valley (Renkumse Beekdal) to learn and get insights from locally involved actors that have redesigned and reorganized the river’s ecology, territory, and governance under the concept of ‘commoning’.
The Renkum valley has a history of afforestation, industrial and agricultural land use which has led to a process of biodiversity loss due to a desiccation and degradation of its stream ecosystems (Reis Oliveira et al, 2020; Witte et all, 2019). As nowadays the valley has lost its industrial and agricultural value, pressure from society helped to get (semi) self-governing initiatives to order the sociological-ecological space of the valley (Slijkhuis, 2021). Hence, multiple local commoning and municipal river valley restoration actions are being developed for nature conservation and to create an attractive environment for recreation (Jongman, 1990).
During our visit to the valley, volunteers from the “Informatiecentrum Renkums Beekdal” guided us through the landscape and its ‘sprengen’ (artificial brooks) that have been restored, and that under constant maintenance can have water flow again. Through our walk, we were able to get insights of the historical evolution of this ‘human-made’ landscape, its maintenance and protection; and how different competing users claim to organize, use and govern the water flows in the area.
To finalize the excursion, we gathered under the trees of the valley to discuss our insights and debate how the conception of commons can help us to enrich our knowledge to manage resources collectively and in a fairer way, not only for humans, but also for other beings that are an essential part of the landscape and its ecosystems.
De Moor, T. (2011). From common pastures to global commons: A historical perspective on interdisciplinary approaches to Commons. Natures Sciences Sociétés, 19(4), 422–431. https://doi.org/10.1051/nss/2011133
dos Reis Oliveira, P. C., van der Geest, H. G., Kraak, M. H. S., Westveer, J. J., Verdonschot, R. C. M., & Verdonschot, P. F. M. (2020). Over forty years of Lowland Stream Restoration: Lessons Learned? Journal of Environmental Management, 264, 110417. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2020.110417
Jongman, R. H. G. (1990). Conservation of brooks in small watersheds: A case for planning. Landscape and Urban Planning, 19(1), 55–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/0169-2046(90)90035-z
Witte, J. M., Voortman, B., Nijhuis, K., van Huijgevoort, M., Rijpkema, S. & Spek, T. (2019). Met het historische landschap verdween er water van de Veluwe. Stromingen, 33(1), 91-108.
Slijkhuis, H. (2021). Waarom Voeren de veluwse sprengen en beken steeds minder water. From https://www.henk-weltje.nl/verdroging-op-de-veluwe/waarom-voeren-de-veluwse-sprengen-en-beken-steeds-minder-water-af-slijkhuis-2021
By Catalina Rey Hernandez | Water Resources Management Group, Wageningen University
Videos & Documentaries
This video presents the River Commons project, an integrated research programme aiming to explore the opportunities of river co-governance.
This video offers an overview of the Rios Viajeros initiative, part of the Riverhood and River Commons projects, which seeks to promote transnational solidarity collaboration and learning between different river cultures. From April 2023, four Colombian rivers will travel through María Benítez and itinerant maps. In Ecuador, the journey continues with Angie Vanessita, environmentalist, activist, and artist. She made local counter-maps together with the communities living along the Guarguallá and Alao rivers.
Publications in newspapers, magazines and the like
By Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo for La Silla Llena. Ana is a PhD researcher in the Riverhood project, Wageningen University.
— Somos agua
Si hay algo que nos conecta como humanidad es nuestra dependencia del agua: todos los días sentimos sed, lavamos y cocinamos alimentos, bañamos nuestros cuerpos, cepillamos nuestros dientes y evacuamos nuestros desechos. A pesar de esta necesidad común, existen grandes brechas sociales en los medios para satisfacerla.
Globalmente, hay al menos 2.000 millones de personas que utilizan agua con heces, siendo el consumo de este tipo de agua la causa de al menos 485.000 muertes al año por diarrea, según cifras de la Organización Mundial para la Salud.
En Colombia, 3,8 millones de personas utilizan agua que no es apta para consumo humano, según el Informe del Sistema de Vigilancia de la Calidad del Agua. Esto representa un 11,8% respecto a la población participante en el estudio, el cual no incluyó datos de 18,2 millones de personas ¿De esta población cuánta no tendrá acceso a agua potable? Además del alto porcentaje que revela el estudio, la falta de información resulta preocupante. Click here to read the whole article.
March 14, 2023 | DÍA MUNDIAL DE ACCIÓN POR LOS RÍOS: ¿QUÉ ESTAMOS HACIENDO EN COLOMBIA?
By Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo, co-authored by Juliana Forigua-Sandoval and Laura Giraldo-Martínez for La Silla Llena. Ana is a PhD researcher in the Riverhood, and Juliana and Laura are PhD researchers in the River Commons project, both at Wageningen University.
El 14 de marzo se conmemora el día internacional de acción por los ríos. El propósito de esta fecha es promover y visibilizar el cuidado y la protección de la principal fuente de agua dulce del planeta e invitar a la ciudadanía a que se sume a los esfuerzos colectivos para defender los ríos.
En Colombia, los ríos están bajo diversas presiones que incluyen intereses de industrias extractivas, hidroeléctricas, contaminación, agroindustria y expansión urbana, las cuales deben entenderse en contextos particulares y teniendo en cuenta las disputas entre distintos actores por controlar el territorio y sus fuentes hídricas. Click here to read the whole article.
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.
Decolonizing Water is an Indigenous-led partnership committed to enhancing the protection of water and Indigenous water governance. The team engages in community-led research on water, including its ecological, socio-economic, cultural and spiritual dimensions. For the team, lands and water are not only sites of learning, but are also actively involved in the process of education. Through land-based learning, they seek to decolonize research and our relationships with the lands and waters.
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.
The Bogotá River is one of the most polluted rivers in Colombia. Of its 380 kilometres, only the first 11 kilometres have good water quality. Then it fills up with chemicals from agribusiness, dairy by-products, tannery and quarry waste, and sewage. For decades, an imaginary has been created of the Bogotá River as a lost cause – a dead river, incapable of healing its waters. The entre-rios collective seeks to change that imaginary by highlighting community and family initiatives that work to protect, care for and rehabilitate the river.
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.
By Carlota Houart, September 2023
The Piatúa River is born in the Llanganates Mountains of Ecuador and runs through the Amazon rainforest. It is thought to be millions of years old and home to a vast diversity of animal and plant species, some of which have not yet been scientifically identified. It is also one of the last free-flowing rivers of the Ecuadorian Amazon to have so far escaped negative human interference (e.g., from mining, pollution, or deforestation). The Piatúa’s riverbanks have been inhabited by more than twenty Kichwa communities for multiple generations, and there are ancient signs of human presence in the area found in petroglyphs carved on rocks along the course of the river. The river’s stones are, indeed, one of its most striking features: the Piatúa is known in Kichwa as Mayu waka rumi, “the river of sacred stones”, and it is believed by the local Kichwa communities to be a sacred, living being with healing powers, inherent wisdom, and its own guardian spirits.
Yet, since 2014 the Piatúa has been threatened by a project from Ecuadorian energy company GENEFRAN S.A. (now called Elit Energy) to build a hydroelectric dam in the river. This project, which was originally approved by the Ministry of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition of Ecuador, was quickly opposed by members of the Kichwa communities of Santa Clara (who have intimate cultural, historical, and spiritual relationships with the river); activists and environmental organizations; and other river lovers (such as practitioners of water sports like kayaking and rafting). Members of the communities denounced the project as having been pushed forward without their free, prior, and informed consent; and complaints were raised against the environmental impact assessment conducted by the company, which was found to be very inaccurate by different scientific experts and – according to local activists – actually based on data from a different river altogether. The hydro dam would have significant impacts on the river, leading to the loss of an estimated 90% of its water volume and creating flood risks in adjacent rivers; seriously threatening its precious biodiversity; and putting at risk the livelihoods of the local Kichwa communities, as well as their spiritual and cultural ties with the Piatúa. Furthermore, although the project is apparently part of Ecuador’s “green transition” plans, local activists claim that it is actually linked to existing plans to build a new oil extraction zone in the region (Block 28) and a new mining site in a nearby community, thereby constituting a source of financing for these extractive activities.
In response to the threat to the Piatúa, an activist group called Piatúa Resiste was formed in 2018, mobilized by young activists from Santa Clara and composed of Indigenous and non-Indigenous allies. Operations for the dam construction began in 2018, but they were instantly faced with peaceful resistance by the activists and members of the communities, and the case was taken to the courts. Making use of Ecuador’s constitutional chapter on Rights of Nature, the lawyers in support of the communities and of the river argued that both the rights of the Kichwa people and of the Piatúa itself were being violated.
The court case was permeated by political tensions and struggle, including the arrest of the judge originally responsible for denying an action of protection in favour of the communities and of the river, who was found to have taken bribes in order to push the hydro dam project forward. In connection to this event, the Provincial Court of Pastaza temporarily suspended the project, instructing the energy company to redo its environmental impact assessment and to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of the Kichwa communities of Santa Clara. Nevertheless, political elections in early 2023 saw the mayor of the municipality who originally paved the way for the hydro dam re-elected, causing renewed concern among the activists and opposers of the dam that the project might still be pushed forward.
Their latest strategy, in a combined effort between Piatúa Resiste and PONAKICSC (the official organization of the Pueblo Originario de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Cantón de Santa Clara) has been to organize a campaign to self-declare the Piatúa as Cultural Heritage of Ecuador. The river defenders are now preparing a camp that will take place along the banks of the Piatúa, involving several of the local communities, from October to December 2023. Riverhood Project’s PhD researcher Carlota Houart, who is studying the topic of multispecies justice in the Piatúa (and in the river Maas, in the Netherlands) will be joining the camp as part of her fieldwork.
The self-declaration by PONAKICSC of the Piatúa as Cultural Heritage of Ecuador is seen as one of the strongest possible strategies to ensure protection of the river and effectively halt the hydro dam project.
For more information on the Piatúa river case, you are invited to watch the short documentary “Piatúa Resiste”, by Indigenous Amazonian filmmaking group TAWNA: https://tawna.org/peliculas/piatua-resiste/.
- Report: River water quality deterioration admits the booming export flower business in the Pisque watershed in Ecuador
- Research on export flower production in Ecuador has shown that large national and multinational flower producers overuse and contaminate water while obtaining sustainability and fair trade certification labels. At the same time, about six hundred small rose producers do not have direct access to the export flower market and suffer from high financial risks and exploitation. Many workers lost their jobs in the big flower companies due to the Covid pandemic that halted the export of flowers. Hundreds of those workers decided to start their own small rose greenhouse. This resulted in an enormous “boom” of small greenhouses, now accounting to over a thousand, each time higher up in the mountains surrounding the “flower” towns of Cayambe and Tabacundo. A major effect of the booming flower business is the deteriorating water quality of the small brooks and rivers in the area due to effluents from both flower greenhouses as well as untreated wastewater from the villages and towns in the rose producing area. Read more here about the training workshop held with communities and schools to monitor river water quality in these areas. This research was executed by Jeroen Vos (WRM, WUR), Patricio Mena (WUR, Ecociencia) and Jorge Celi, Andrea Llumiquinga, Alex Gualli and Bryan Rosero from IKIAM and financed by a grant from the NWO (The Dutch Research Council), called “Organisation of fair trade flower production with small rose producers in Ecuador” (Project number 481.20.126).
- Book: “River Culture – Life as a dance to the rhythm of the waters“
- The book entitled “River Culture – Life as a dance to the rhythm of the waters” (2023) presents an analysis of the biological and cultural diversities of several rivers worldwide, threats to these diversities, and perspectives, practical approaches, and suggestions of how to overcome river-related problems. ‘River Culture’ is defined in the book “as the sum of biological adaptations and cultural linkages to nature, developed by organisms (including humans) that live in riverscapes (Wantzen et al. 2016). The term is based upon the hypothesis that natural rhythms (flow, light, and climatic dynamics) trigger the development and evolution of this biocultural diversity” (p. 2). It claims that “investigating river cultures and structuring an integrated knowledge on nature-culture interactions in riverscapes helps provide the necessary basis for their management along more sustainable pathways” (p.2).The book is composed by 36 chapters and brings together the social and ecological background information on 28 selected river basins all over the world (attention is given to the equality of contributions from the Global North and the Global South).
- 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.
photo by Laura Giraldo-Martinez