1st Edition

Water, Power and Identity The Cultural Politics of Water in the Andes

By Rutgerd Boelens Copyright 2015
    388 Pages
    by Routledge

    388 Pages 31 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book addresses two major issues in natural resource management and political ecology: the complex conflicting relationship between communities managing water on the ground and national/global policy-making institutions and elites; and how grassroots defend against encroachment, question the self-evidence of State-/market-based water governance, and confront coercive and participatory boundary policing (‘normal’ vs. ‘abnormal’). 

    The book examines grassroots building of multi-layered water-rights territories, and State, market and expert networks’ vigorous efforts to reshape these water societies in their own image – seizing resources and/or aligning users, identities and rights systems within dominant frameworks. Distributive and cultural politics entwine. It is shown that attempts to modernize and normalize users through universalized water culture, ‘rational water use’ and de-politicized interventions deepen water security problems rather than alleviating them. However, social struggles negotiate and enforce water rights. User collectives challenge imposed water rights and identities, constructing new ones to strategically acquire water control autonomy and re-moralize their waterscapes. 

    The author shows that battles for material control include the right to culturally define and politically organize water rights and territories. Andean illustrations from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile, from peasant-indigenous life stories to international policy-making, highlight open and subsurface hydro-social networks. They reveal how water justice struggles are political projects against indifference, and that engaging in re-distributive policies and defying ‘truth politics,’ extends context-particular water rights definitions and governance forms.

    1. Introduction: Water Control Battlefields 

    2. Water Rights in Collectively Managed Andean Systems 

    3. Regimes of Waters Truth: Interdisciplinarity, Domains of Water Control and Hydro-social Cycle Politics 

    4. Embeddedness of Water Control in the Andean Peasant Economy 

    5. The Hydro-Politics of Identity: Coercive and Capillary Powers 

    6. Panoptic Power and the Moralization of Water Control Technology 

    7. Expertocratizing Local Water Rights 

    8. Neoliberalizing Collective Water Rights and Spaces of Resistance 

    9. Resistance as ‘Con-fusion’: Mimesis, Mimicry and Contesting the Dream Scheme 

    10. Conclusions and Reflections: Powers of Illusion and Forces of Con-fusion


    Rutgerd Boelens is Professor of the Political Ecology of Water in Latin America, CEDLA and Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam; Professor, Water Governance and Social Justice, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University; and Visiting Professor, Department of Social Sciences, Catholic University Peru. He coordinates the Justicia Hídrica/Water Justice alliance.

    "Water, Power and Identity is a true masterwork. Drawing on decades of experience in the Andean region, Rutgerd Boelens has produced a wide-ranging and complex account of grassroots struggles for water rights and cultural autonomy. It is among the most authoritative volumes ever produced on Latin American water politics."Tom Perreault, Professor of Geography, Syracuse University, USA. 

    "Rutgerd Boelens has established himself as a leader in the area of the cultural politics of water in the Andes. This book brings together much of his research and thinking. Water, Power and Identity offers a challenging and thought-provoking contribution to debates on law and nature, environmental governance, and political ecologies of state-making and resistance. Very important reading."Anthony Bebbington, Professor of Environment and Society and Director of the Graduate School of Geography, Clark University, USA. 

    "This book demonstrates conclusively that water rights are never given or distributed, but taken and fought for. Rarely before has the intimate relationship between power and water been so incisively dissected. A must-read for those concerned with how power shapes life and how communities struggle for their right to water."Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography, University of Manchester, UK, Author of Social Power and the Urbanization of Water and Liquid Power. 

    "A breath-taking discussion on normalization, showing how different modes of power often fuse together and make for all new kinds of dazzling phenomena. Of outstanding scientific quality, the book will be recognized by experts in the field as highly distinctive. The work is built on many years of consistent fieldwork (conducted in several Andean countries) and reflects broad engagement and a multi-method approach. The work stands out as a masterpiece of conceptual integration: the interdisciplinary approach on which it is built embraces sociology, peasant studies, irrigation studies, legal anthropology, gender studies, political sciences, history and philosophy." Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor of Transition Studies, Wageningen University, Netherlands. 

    "Extremely broad in its theoretical scope, and at the same time very attentive to detail in the case material discussed, the analysis is incisive and consistently provocative. Boelens brings a sharply critical eye to the institutions surrounding irrigation, whether these are the large irrigation projects and the "experts" who direct them, or the small peasant-managed systems that also have their own forms of exclusion and domination. Without exaggeration, I can say that this is the most comprehensive and theoretically sophisticated work on Andean irrigation that I have encountered in my more than twenty-five years working in this field." Paul H. Gelles, Author of Water and Power in Highland Peru.