RIVERHOOD: Living rivers and new water justice movements

RIVERHOOD is a 5-years project that will study, conceptualize and support evolving water justice movements that struggle for enlivening rivers.

From dominating waterscapes to the rights of nature

Notwithstanding rivers’ fundamental importance for social and natural well-being, around the world, mega-damming, pollution, and multiple forms of domesticating are putting riverine systems under great stress. Expert ontologies and epistemologies have become cornerstones of powerful hydraulic-bureaucratic administrations.

Recently, worldwide, a large variety of new water justice movements (NWJMs) have proliferated. These are transdisciplinary, multi-actor and multi-scalar coalitions that view rivers not just as a reservoir of flowing water, but as a living entity in which nature and humans are ecologically and socioeconomically deeply intertwined. New exciting strategies include, among others, New Water Culture and Rights of Nature notions.

NWJMs hold immense potential for contributing to a radically new, equitable and nature-rooted water governance, but are undertheorized, largely unnoticed by natural and social sciences, and excluded from policy-making.

The RIVERHOOD project

RIVERHOOD will develop a new analytical and methodological framework to study NWJMs in 8 cases in Ecuador, Colombia, Spain and the Netherlands. The central research question is: How do the new water justice movements shape and dynamize riverhood enlivening strategies, institutions and practices, and how can they potentiate radically new scientific and policy approaches for sustainable and equitable water governance?


The project will be led by Prof. Rutgerd Boelens as principal investigator, with Dr. Jeroen Vos as senior researcher and Lena Hommes as postdoc researcher. It will comprise 4 cross-cultural PhD projects as well as cooperation with a wide range of university, NGO and practitioner partners. At each study site ‘Environmental Justice Labs’ will be organized: a novel approach to comprehend pluriversal water worlds and foster knowledge co-creation and democratization. RIVERHOOD will develop these Labs as shared spaces in which key stakeholders come together to conjointly conduct research, develop skills and action proposals, and initiate creative site-specific interventions.

The project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 101002921). ERC grants were established by the European Union to promote ground-breaking research and scientific excellence.