The river Meuse is a transboundary river with multiple forms of human infrastructure (e.g. dams and weirs) along its course on Dutch territory, and that has been historically highly polluted by industry. Recent campaigns and initiatives have been developed to try to restore its natural landscape and river health. Overall, this case gathers different aspects of human/non-human relations and of nature-society entanglements that make it an interesting study site for a research project on multispecies justice, including: nature restoration or nature “development” projects such as the Grensmaas/Border Meuse project or the Biesbosch protected wetland; how human infrastructure such as the impressive Haringvlietdam impacts fish migration and other features of everyday non-human life and the human cultural practices associated with these; a recent campaign to recognise rights to the river Meuse (“Maak de Maas de Baas”); among others.

PhD researcher: Carlota Houart

Water is crucial for life on Earth, but many of the world’s rivers are under threat from human activities and infrastructure such as dams, mining and pollution, and diversion or depletion. These forms of controlling and transforming rivers are responsible not only for the impoverishment and disempowerment of riverine human communities across the globe; but also for the endangerment and disappearance of global populations of freshwater species and of diverse animal and plant communities who live in, with, and around rivers. In such context, this research will explore the theoretical and on-the-ground implications of conceptualizing and understanding rivers and their socio-environments through the lens of multispecies justice. Multispecies justice is an emergent research program that views a diversity of humans and other-than-human beings as subjects of justice; and that seeks to reflect on how to transform our relations with other beings in accordance with this.

From a political ecology perspective, this research will analyse how both human and non-human beings co-inhabit, co-create, and co-shape river systems. This will involve critically looking into how their agency and participation in rivers might be acknowledged, represented, and/or included in grassroots initiatives; and what consequences this may have in terms of political relations and processes. By doing multispecies ethnography in the Piatúa River in Ecuador and the Meuse River in the Netherlands, this investigation will focus on the following question: “How can the notion of multispecies justice help to conceptualise and support socio-environmental river defense and restoration practices in the biodiverse hydrosocial territories of the Piatúa and the Maas Rivers, and what are the main challenges, pitfalls, and possibilities of applying this notion across scales, cultures, and contexts?”.