Rutgerd Boelens of the Water Resources Management Group has been appointed Special Professor at the University of Amsterdam. He will hold the Extraordinary Chair ‘Political Ecology of Water in Latin America’ with the interuniversity organisation CEDLA (Centre for Latin American Research and Documentation) and the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.
Building bridges among water governance research at Wageningen University and CEDLA/University of Amsterdam, the new Chair will work on the growing interests among Amsterdam students and researchers in the themes of water governance, natural resource management and inequality in Latin America. “Power and politics are driving forces behind the ways that uneven distribution of water and decision-making are legitimated and perpetuated,” Rutgerd Boelens says. “ The interaction between formal and informal rights and governance plays an important role in this. Study of these social, technological and ecological processes brings together the disciplines of natural and social sciences.”
The chair will focus on the thematic working fields of the political ecology of water distribution and control, water governance and governmentality, and water grabbing and water justice in Latin America. Research, education and training will address the growing competition among multiple water user groups and use sectors in the (adverse) Latin American policy and legislative contexts, which make that water access and decision-making power often concentrate in the hands of the few.
In Latin America, water governance increasingly involves a multitude of public, private and civil society actors, at multiple scale levels. Water user groups are ever more subject to the global economy and geopolitics. At the same time, influenced by new technological developments, extractive industries, global policies, and the wish to combat the lingering ‘threat of overall water scarcity’ in the region, new forms of ‘governmentality through water’ are designed. These commonly entail re-patterning water space and territory; reshaping rules and authority; and inducing new norms and discourses about efficient and rational water use - all with huge consequences for local water user families. An important element of research will be the opportunities for multi-scale strategies by grassroots organisations who look for ways to counter current water injustices.
Boelens will join the tasks of the Special Chair at UvA with his work as Associate Professor at the Water Resources Management Group in Wageningen, Special Chair ‘Territorial Studies’ with the Mexican Science Foundation CONACYT, and a Visiting Professorship with the Catholic University of Peru. Various of these activities will combine in the research alliance Justicia Hidrica (Water Justice) that Boelens coordinates, an intercontinental network focused on research, training and policy analysis in multiple countries, particularly in Latin America. The alliance works with academic and policymaking organisations, water-user organisations and indigenous peasant federations.