The Piatúa River is one of the last free-flowing rivers in Ecuador to have so far escaped contamination from mining, pollution, and other forms of negative human interference. It forms a precious ecological corridor across the Amazon rainforest and has been home to both human and other-than-human communities for millennia. Since 2014, however, an Ecuadorian energy company has been trying to build a hydro dam in the area, which would capture more than 70% of the river’s water flow and significantly impact its biodiversity. It also represents a threat against the cultural and historical rights of local Kichwa communities, one of the reasons why they have been actively mobilising against this hydropower development plan. Local communities and environmental organisations have therefore been trying to protect the Piatúa and its local inhabitants (human and non-human), namely by appealing to the rights of the river and of its peoples.

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, I 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, I 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 Maas River in the Netherlands, I 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?”.