PhD graduation of Lena Hommes awarded with Cum Laude

On the 6th of July we celebrated the PhD defense of Lena Hommes, researcher in the Riverhood and River Commons projects, who graduated with a cum laude.

In her PhD project “Infrastructure Lives. Water, Territories, and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain”, Lena analysed processes and discussions surrounding the envisioning, construction and contestation of hydraulic infrastructure and connected territorial reconfigurations in Turkey, Peru and Spain. Her central research question is: How are diverging visions and imaginaries about the shaping of hydrosocial territories through large-scale hydraulic infrastructure (dams, water transfers and hydropower plants) in Turkey, Peru and Spain promoted, realized and contested or accepted; and with what effects?

The committee, consisting of Prof Erik Swyngedouw (University of Manchester), Prof Tom Perreault (University of Syracuse), Prof Edward Huijbens (WUR) and Prof Diana Suhardiman (Leiden University), together with the external referees, unanimously qualified the thesis and the oral defence as “excellent”.

The dissertation, supervised by Prof Boelens and Dr Esha Shah (WASS, ESG-WRM), is based on five peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, and 9 publications closely connected. The committee comments that the dissertation also has high social importance: “…the candidate has done the research compassionately, driven not only by desire to know and understand, but also by a strong sense of societal and scientific responsibilities...”. The supervisors explain that the candidate makes hydraulic infrastructure visible, revealing its hidden power and exclusionary practices, opening technological black boxes to allow for public debate and democratic decision-making: “out of the hands of a few technical experts and elites”.

Altogether, the committee and referees summarized that: “taken as a whole, this is an outstanding dissertation. The research is rigorous and of very high quality, and surpasses all standards for social scientific research”.

Interested to learn more about this topic? You can visit the movingrivers website or engage with Dr. Lena Hommes in the afternoon dialogue on August 30. Dr. Lena Hommes and novelist Frank Westerman (‘To true to be good’) will debate their books in the public seminar “Dam dreams and river rewilding: Ideals in dispute” in Impulse, campus WUR.



Summary of Lena’s thesis

Infrastructure Lives: Water, Territories and Transformations in Turkey, Peru and Spain

Lena Hommes

Keywords: Water, infrastructure, political ecology, territories, governmentality, Turkey, Peru, Spain

This dissertation departs from questions about territorialization processes associated with modern hydraulic infrastructure. It asks about the visions and imaginaries that shape hydraulic infrastructure projects and how these imaginaries change through time; how hydraulic infrastructure is a powerful tool to materialize specific imaginaries in expected and unexpected ways; and what effects this brings about for adjacent hydrosocial territories. The central research question is: How have contested imaginaries shaped hydraulic infrastructure projects and, in consequence, (re)configured hydrosocial territories in Turkey, Peru and Spain?

In order to do so, this research gives analytically deep ‘snapshots’ of diverse unfinished moments of hydraulic infrastructures, territorial transformations and associated imaginaries. It takes the diverse contexts of Turkey, Peru and Spain to shed light on different infrastructures, different moments of infrastructural life, and different imaginaries about hydrosocial territories and the role infrastructure should play in it. It shows how the ‘lives of infrastructure’ constantly develop because of shifting material, environmental, political and social relations in different historic and political momentums. In that sense, hydraulic infrastructures as plans, processes and materializations, as socio-technical nodes and mediators in constantly developing human/nonhuman relations, reflect and co-constitute our socionatural living together, our infrastructure lives. Hydraulic infrastructures are therefore not inanimate objects but living and acting as the materialization of socio-political relations and debates about the what and who of our living together. This, in consequence, means that studying hydraulic infrastructure provides a fascinating lens to dissect and understand the questions, struggles and enactments of debates about nature, society and the entwinement of both. With re-naturalisation and dam removal on the rise, some infrastructure’s lives might have already come to an end. But others will continue in the future – either in present forms or reincarnated in new designs, new discourses, new environments, new imaginaries, new relations.      

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