Mariska Bouterse 

Master student, Cultural Anthropology Sustainable Citizenship – Utrecht University

Supervisor: Dr. Hayal Akarsu (Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University)

The belief that Nature should receive rights has been growing around the globe; being perceived to be a solution to Anthropos catastrophic activities, which are negatively affecting all other forms of life on the planet and beyond. However, research on the effects of such legal changes is lacking. In 2008, Ecuador has granted Rights to Nature. However, El Río San Pedro, one of the most important rivers running through the country’s capital, Quito, all the way to the Pacific, is one of the examples which experiences high levels of contamination. Thereby, negatively impacting all human and non-human life surrounding the river while increased urbanization is expected to further worsen the situation. Public concern over the river’s pollution have led to actions being taken for possible recovery processes of the river while contamination practices are ongoing. The roles of the various actors involved in these processes, such as neighbours of the rivers, the municipality, parish governments, citizen groups, peri-urban farmers and industries. There are several uses, and ways of valuing and relating to the river that are at stake and mediated by power relations that should begin to be explored.

Situated within the Rights of Nature framework, this research will focus on how power dynamics influence the lived experiences of citizens living next to the highly contaminated river, El Río San Pedro in Ecuador. This will be done through ethnographic research within the Anthropology of Water by combining the political ecology and political ontology lenses.

This study will investigate how the Rights of Nature are perceived and used by the different stakeholders involved, and what these rights do in practice; how El Río San Pedro is shaped and used as a subject. And what social, political, economic effects and conflicts arise from these rights. It will look at the different human-river relations by exploring the different cosmologies and ontologies of the actors involved; how, and as what the different actors relate to El Río San Pedro; besides, how social relations between the actors are shaped through the river. As the intensity of recovery processes varies per region, the last focus will be on the people living in the area which lacks protection and on a daily basis have to live in the ruins of environmental pollution. Therewith will be explored how this affects their thoughts, beliefs and actions which shape their hydrosocial lifeworlds.