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Luttes pour l’eau dans les Amériques

Chloé Nicolas-Artero
Sébastien Velut
Graciela Schneier-Madanes
et al.

II- Accaparement de l’eau et dynamiques spatiales : quelles interactions ?

Chapter 4. Reflections from Latin America on the Hydrosocial Approach: its Use, Abuse, and a Possible Way Through the Maze

Robin Larsimont et Facundo Martín

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  • 1 As described by Rogers and Crow-Miller [2017, p. 2], “these overlapping concepts address how water (...)

1During the last two decades, there has been an increase in critical research on water-related issues. They have focused on the role of water in society-nature interactions as well as the power relations involved in water management. Most of the literature uses the hydrosocial approach. Following Rogers and Crow-Miller [2017], we use the term hydrosocial approach for the set of interconnected and overlapping concepts such as water circulation, waterscapes, hydrosocial cycles, hydrosocial territories, hydrolectics and hydrosocial basins.1 These concepts are under constant debate and have the notable feature of being considerably open and incomplete in their formulation [Larsimont & Grosso, 2014]. Many scholars have contributed to trace the genealogy of the hydrosocial approach with calibrated synthesis works [Swyngedouw, 2009, 2015; Budds, 2011; Linton, 2014; Linton & Budds, 2014; Banister, 2014; Wesselink et al., 2017; Karpouzoglou & Vij, 2017; Rogers & Crow-Miller, 2017]. Some works introduce the conceptual landscape for non-English-speakers [Blanchon & Graefe, 2012; Larsimont & Grosso, 2014; Molle, 2012; Rodríguez Sánchez, 2017]. In Latin America, the hydrosocial approach has gained momentum within the burgeoning research field of political ecology of water. The proliferation of related concepts has proved to be useful for many social and environmental scholars in the region. This framework has raised the visibility of the processes that regulate access to and control of water, since it considers the many and diverse agents who are involved at different spatial and temporal scales. In this sense, the hydrosocial approach provides a valuable heuristic tool that reconsiders power relations that have been historically shaped by the use and appropriation of water.

2In this chapter, we provide an assessment on the hydrosocial approach as a theory and as a set of methods. This overview becomes necessary because the framework is so widely used. Our purpose is to provide a thoughtful and exploratory exercise encouraging open dialogue on fundamental notions in critical water studies. From this position, we intend to focus on the repetition and lack of criticism in the literature. Following Mollinga [2014, p. 193], we argue that hydrosocial research needs to be more than “a confirmation of the fact that indeed, water resources, management, structures and practices are ‘hydrosocial relations of power’.” Three observations support this criticism:

  1. The set of concepts under the umbrella of the hydrosocial approach suffer from blurred borders and conceptual ambiguity. This has led to different uses of similar concepts in empirical research. Conceptual diversity is healthy but with such ambivalence the results sometimes seem to be less robust than intended.

  2. In some cases, the perspective is strongly supported by the use of rhetorical resources and catchy neologisms. Explanations tend to be shortcuts and case studies often confirm the sophisticated yet flexible framework with “circular reasoning”.

  3. Although we are aware of the limits that academic publication formats (paper, book chapter, etc.) impose to researchers, there are significant methodological voids, omissions, and lack of clarity on how the hydrosocial approach frames specific procedures and data collection techniques.

3The chapter is organized in four sections. First, we review the roots and milestones of the hydrosocial approach. Second, we summarize the proliferation and main uses of the hydrosocial approach in and from Latin America. Third, we critically assess examples of uses of the approach, focusing mainly on the hydrosocial cycle concept in the literature in Andean and Southern Cone countries. We identify problems stemming from imprecise concepts, empty rhetoric, and poorly-defined field methods. Finally, we suggest possible ways to address these problems in future research, regarding precision and conceptual operationalization, transparency in the fieldwork and historicization, as well as openness of the “research cycle”.

Reflections on the origins of the hydrosocial approach

4As mentioned above, we have narrowed down the empirical analysis of the hydrosocial approach to the specific Latin American context and literature. However, since this perspective was mainly developed in the Global North, theoretical discussions that led to its current formulation have also been carefully considered. In this section, instead of providing an exhaustive review, we focus on milestones and connections among different epistemic moments which led to the configuration of the hydrosocial approach as a constellation of related concepts. Table 1 summarizes our reading of this development in two main areas: a) epistemic moments with a heuristic purpose, in reference to a number of important works, influential and constitutive and b) moments with operational purpose. The hydrosocial approach has also roots out of the “trenches” of academia. That is, it grew out of social networks formations that connected researchers, teachers, activists, non-governmental organizations, local community members and social movements.

Table 1. A chronology and mapping of the hydrosocial approach’s maturation

Table 1. A chronology and mapping of the hydrosocial approach’s maturation

Source: Larsimont & Martín, 2022

  • 2 The initial reports on the project [Swyngedouw, 1992; Swyngedouw & Bovarnick, 1994] showed, despite (...)
  • 3 The main theoretical influences are clear in “The City as a Hybrid,” which has four introductory ep (...)
  • 4 It is important to mention other theoretical contributions, debates, and regions such as Baviskar, (...)
  • 5 Although we recognize the potential of this new concept, we do not discuss it here in detail. Howev (...)

5It may seem narrow to distil the origin of a broad approach to a single person, but Erik Swyngedouw’s work in the late 1980s and early 1990s was clearly a milestone for the hydrosocial approach. Consistent with his legacy in historical-geographical materialism, he found fertile ground on a research project to interpret water issues in Guayaquil, Ecuador. This project was related to the Instituto de Planificación Urbana’s creation and to the collaboration between the Catholic University of Leuven and St.Peter’s College at Oxford University.2 This analysis became more relevant in a second research project sponsored by the European Union in the late 1990s on water management policies in Spain. Since then, Swyngedouw began to make significant theoretical contributions based on the thesis of hybridization (Quasi-object/Cyborg) [Latour, 1991; Haraway, 1991] and the relational-dialectical approach3 [Harvey, 1996]. This approach was further developed in new studies led by an Oxford group (Karen Bakker, Esteban Castro, and Maria Kaika, among others), which allowed for the landmark development of an urban political ecology [Swyngedouw, 1996; Swyngedouw et al., 2002; Heynen et al., 2006] and then a radical political ecology of water [Blanchon & Graefe, 2012]. On a conceptual level, the term waterscape was conceived to describe the hybrid and trans-scalar socio-natural produced landscape through which water circulates4 [Swyngedouw, 1999]. Later, the need to keep water contextualized in its social and historical conditions of production was highlighted by distinguishing water as a manageable resource, H2O, privately owned, and other possible “waters” [Bakker, 2002]. As a consequence, the idea of water circulation and the close ties between water, power, and capital became more complex in the idea of the hydrosocial cycle [Bakker, 2002; Swyngedouw, 2004, 2005, 2009]. This key concept was later developed by Jamie Linton [2008, 2010] and Jessica Budds [2008]. Linton [2010] detailed the historic process of abstraction, reduction, and reproduction that characterizes modern water, also called H2O, as an essential element of the hydrological cycle, as opposed to other waters. Together, they clearly synthesized the ontological, epistemological and analytical dimensions of the concept [Linton & Budds, 2014]. A few recent publications have used the term hydrosocial territories, which seems to be a meeting place for different forms of production and control of water [Boelens et al., 2016].5

  • 6 This project gave rise to GOBACIT and then WATERLAT, which eventually merged into a single global n (...)

6As a consequence of the hydrosocial approach progressive theoretical formation, a series of academic and advocacy networks emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These networks promoted dialogues beyond the academic world and became useful for communication and feedback. Two networks paid particular attention to Latin America and played a decisive role in how the hydrosocial approach was introduced and adopted. First, the WaterLat Network was created in the early 2000s as an interdisciplinary and comparative research project sponsored by the European Union (PRINWASS). Its main research and political interest focused on the privatization processes of several water and sanitation services.6 Second, the Alianza Justicia Hídrica, established in the mid 2000s, focused on research, training, and action in support of plural and democratic water policies and sustainable water management.

The hydrosocial approach in Latin America

  • 7 In contrast to some typical studies of the so-called “Third World Political ecology” [Bryant & Bail (...)

7Over the last fifteen years, a growing number of Latin American studies have adopted the hydrosocial approach. This goes along with the growing exploitation of natural resources by strip mining, fracking, agribusiness, urbanization, and tourism. These trends have led to more social conflicts and resistance. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of academic initiatives that favor open dialogue in the region and more broadly, in the field of political ecology [Bryant, 2015; Perreault et al., 2015; Martín & Larsimont, 2016; Alimonda et al., 2017]. Both WaterLat and the Alianza Justicia Hídrica have provided settings for valuable dialogues between the Global South, the location of research sites, and the Global North, where the theories were mainly developed. On the one hand, it is important to note that in many cases, researchers from the Global North not only “develop” theories but also “apply” the hydrosocial approach in Latin America.7 On the other hand, many Latin American scholars “adopt” the approach to conduct critical research within the region.

8In the hydrosocial approach in Latin America, a central idea is the relevance of asymmetric power relations in terms of water access, distribution, and control. This shapes the articulation between water, society and territory. Within this central idea, we distinguish five specific domains (Table 2): hydrological knowledge, water-territory relationships, water governance and policies, water grabbing, and water conflicts (the order of these thesis is not related to any hierarchical criteria). These connected and overlapping domains mirror the diversity and complexity of the concerns contained within the hydrosocial approach. Moreover, most studies are not limited to one of them.

Table 2. Domains of the political ecology of water in Latin America

Table 2. Domains of the political ecology of water in Latin America

Source: Larsimont & Martín, 2022. The authors based on previous summaries by Robbins [2005], Boelens [2009 cited in Isch, 2012], and Martín & Bautista Justo [2015].

The need for assessment

9There is no doubt that the hydrosocial approach is so widespread in Latin America and other places because of how it was originally formulated. It is appealing because it does not follow established rules and conventions. It eschews traditional structures that require questions, hypothesis, methods, and results. By using a complex metaphorical narrative –including the use of neologisms and puns – it invites the reader to “travel” along the multiple flows of water and power. The hydrosocial approach also challenges established dualisms such as Society/Nature (with all the institutional and disciplinary issues that they entail), Local/Global (including the production and politics of scale), and the Material/Ideal (the general distinction between the material world and the discursive and symbolic representation of the world of ideas). As a consequence, a broad concept such as waterscape encompasses human, non-human, and hybrid actors in a multi-scale process under a single, broad framework with all the necessary ingredients to think about socio-environmental issues in a tangled way. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the theory and associated methods deserve a closer scrutiny that we organize following three topics:

  1. conceptual imprecision,

  2. empty rhetoric and,

  3. unclear field methods.

Conceptual imprecision

  • 8 It is presented as a tool to ask ontological questions such as “what water is” and epistemological (...)

10Even though there have been attempts to clarify concepts [Swyngedouw, 2009; Linton & Budds, 2014; Boelens et al., 2016], the hydrosocial approach is still engulfed in conceptual smog. We see some obstacles that need to be considered in more detail, such as overlapping definitions [Rogers & Crow-Miller, 2017], identical ideas with different names, or tenuous links between related concepts. In some cases, this makes it difficult to see what is being investigated. Likewise, a multi-layered concept such as the hydrosocial cycle may evoke at the same time ontological, epistemological, and analytical aspects8 [Linton & Budds, 2014], leading to potential ambiguity. If this could be a familiar reference for people on the field, for others it may be a “barrier to understanding its relevance” [Wesselink et al., 2017, p. 7]. Additionally, as it happens sometimes with the term political ecology, a concept may be related to either the framework or the object of study. The following excerpts exemplify this ambiguity (emphasis added):

“The challenge is to better navigate between the material and the socio-political dimensions of environmental change, in order to reveal the power relations that intersect with biophysical dynamics to produce and reproduce political ecologies. Adopting the framework of the hydrosocial cycle would give equal importance to socio-political factors as geoclimatic factors in analysing waterscapes [Budds, 2009, p. 420].

“[...] we develop the concept of ‘waterscape’, which we argue represents a useful framework to approach the multiple processes and dynamics that mediate water over space and time […]” [Budds & Hinojosa, 2012, p. 120].

“The next section examines the hydrosocial cycle in La Ligua river basin, by examining the ways in which water use and problems are framed by different social actors and how such discourses are mobilized to position favored water management solutions” [Budds, 2008, p.63].

  • 9 For example, the idea of “liminal landscape” [Zukin, 1991 cited in Swyngedouw, 2004, p. 29].

11In such examples, both the hydrosocial cycle and the waterscape can be the framework as well as object of study. Connected to this issue, some authors also point out the need to be more thorough and precise when using generalized and potentially vague concepts such as space, territory, and landscape9, which are all components of the hydrosocial approach [Rodriguez Sánchez, 2017].

Empty rhetoric

12Despite the complex ontological and epistemological imbrications that the hydrosocial approach perspective embraces, in some cases it is used as empty rhetoric or “jargon” [Wesselink et al., 2017]. Swyngedouw [1999, p. 447] himself suggests that using a dialectic-internal-relational perspective requires “a new language that maintains the dialectical unity of the process of change as embodied in the thing itself”, in other words, to construct “multiple narratives that relate material, representational, and symbolic practices” [Lefebvre, 1991, cited in Swyngedouw, 1999, p.447]. Hence there is a risk to reduce the hydrosocial approach to being “helpful in situating the lines of thought that are engaged in the making of the argument” [Swyngedouw, 2015, p. 14]. Stated another way, the hydrosocial can become a “road map” or a theoretical shortcut, since it guides authors on how to perform analysis of empirical data.

  • 10 On several occasions, some tensions appear and there is no clear connection between the theory and (...)

13Many studies use a similar structure: first, the concepts are presented to indicate the background from which research questions will be developed (e.g., water access, power relationships). Next, case studies are reported in a standard way.10 Finally, the theoretical concepts are restated “in the light” of the case study. Here, the hydrosocial approach could be considered as a means of summarizing and recapitulating an argument [Budds, 2008; Langhoff et al., 2017; Martín & Larsimont, 2016, Larsimont & Grosso, 2014]. Another frequent practice is to use the hydrosocial approach as “a pair of new glasses” to reinterpret processes that have already been studied from another perspective. This could lead either to simply borrowing case studies or in the best-case scenario, shedding light on new phenomena.

14All these difficulties stem from circular arguments. There is little room to diverge from the introduction and the conclusion, which are usually quite similar. Once the hydrosocial package of ideas is opened, the development of the case study can be simply used to confirm and reify the sophisticated (but flexible) theoretical lens presented in the introduction. In connection with this issue, a group of Spanish researchers made a friendly critique of Swyngedouw and Williams’ work on desalination as a hydro-social solution in Spain. To express their disagreement they asked, “How can we apply general categories and a global perspective without distorting our understanding of specific historical-geographical processes? How can we apply theoretical frameworks without misinterpreting context-specific data and processes?” [Del Moral et al., 2017, p. 333]. This critique started a controversy with significant epistemological and theoretical implications, in which Swyngedouw and Williams [2017], in a theoretically embedded response, justified how their case study articulates with wider socio-political transformations.

15Generally, empty rhetoric reflects, to some extent, the harsh critique that Latour [2006, p. 35] makes of the “donneurs d’explication”. He argues that such researchers “often jump straight ahead to connect vast arrays of life and history” as a “shortcut” and risk confusing what they should explain and the explanation. He suggests that “the time has come to open all these packages to carefully consider the kind of explanation they can really provide” [Latour, 2006, p. 35].

Unclear field methods

16The hydrosocial approach also shows methodological weaknesses. As Wesselink et al. [2017, p. 7] argue, “most of these papers are very brief on the methodology employed”. Although hydrosocial narratives are contributions to understanding the complexities of water, there are still significant omissions when it comes to the procedures that generate and mobilize empirical data. Demonstrating how material, discursive-representative, and symbolic aspects are related requires articulating methods and other interpretative tools, which is not an easy task. However, considering the ontological assumptions of the hydrosocial approach, there is a striking lack of effort to develop methodological innovations.

17Wesselink et al. [2017, p. 7] add that “the reader is expected to believe the interpretation provided by the authors”. An additional problem is that social scientists frequently write academic texts for particular audiences. They usually avoid exposing their positions to critiques. The political ecology of water is nevertheless a particularly favorable field for reflecting on the power relations that are infused in the spatial and discursive practices of fieldwork [Katz, 1994; Massey, 2003]. As Cindi Katz argues [1994, p. 67], “we are always already in the fieldmultiply positioned actors, aware of the partiality of all our stones and the artifice of the boundaries drawn in order to tell them”.

Three possible exit routes

18We present three exit avenues that could be used to strengthen the hydrosocial approach:

  1. conceptual precision and operationalization,

  2. disclosing methods and doing fieldwork as engagement

  3. historicization and open-mindedness.

Conceptual precision and operationalization

19To deal with the proliferation of different meanings and concepts within the hydrosocial approach, concepts need to be precisely defined [Mollinga, 2014; Banister, 2014]. It is very heartening to note that this result is productive. Although the relational perspective underlying the hydrosocial approach effectively challenges established dualisms, conceptual operationalization remains difficult. As a consequence, gaps between theory and case studies often persist. It is worth asking how the hydrosocial approach can best deal with nonlinear processes or exceptions that do not follow the expected pattern. We argue that two strategies can be used: combine the hydrosocial approach with other more operational frameworks or subdivide the approach into specific layers.

  • 11 They state that the issue is not only about describing hybrid systems but rather about bringing lig (...)
  • 12 For instance, the term “power geometries” is sometimes used to both introduce and summarize all the (...)

20In his study on irrigation in India, Mollinga [2014, p. 202-203] highlights the need to elaborate a “more specific conceptualization to capture the different hydrosocial mechanisms […] Understanding complexity and emergence requires a conceptual vocabulary that captures specific instances of hydrosociality”. This case study refines the analysis by combining the hydrosocial and morphogenetic cycles [Archer, 1995, cited in Mollinga, 2014]. Another example is Banister’s [2014, p. 205] use of geophilosophy “as a way to explore hydro-sociality as a nonlinear process, developing a historicized account of irrigation politics, the flows of matter, and nonlinear dynamics in northwest Mexico’s Río Mayo Valley”. Wesselink et al. [2017] pave the way for a productive complementarity between socio-hydrology and hydrosocial research. Another task is to more specifically address macro, meso, and micro scales as layers of hydrosocial relations [Hoogesteger & Wester, 2015]. This could be achieved through technography [Bolding, 2004; Vos, 2016] or by activating hydrosocial networks and specifying their spatialities (span) and temporalities (durability) [Wester, 2008; Hoogesteger & Wester, 2015]. Blot and Gonzalez Besteiro [2017] focus on the potential contributions that Francophone critical geography can make to political ecology. Their reflections are particularly relevant in face of the habitual lack of operationalization of one of the main concepts: power.11 Even though power is a central concept in the hydrosocial approach, there are few attempts to operationalize an analysis of it.12 Paraphrasing Latour [2006, p. 92] power “has to be produced, made up, composed” by putting into practice conceptual tools that favor the progressive explanation and acknowledgement of non-linear processes of (dis)connection and emergence. Power is “the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock or a capital that will automatically provide an explanation” [Latour, 2006, p. 92]. In other words, researchers should be encouraged to go beyond simply confirming that there are indeed relations of power on water issues and rather strive to show how those asymmetries operate, as well as their effects [Mollinga, 2014]. The hydrosocial approach, by deploying a layered and articulated conceptual apparatus, should be a research practice that does not “jump like a hare” but on the contrary, “trudges like an ant” [Latour, 2006, p. 319].

Disclosing methods and doing fieldwork as engagement

  • 13 This line is particularly pertinent in Latin America, where there is limited access to secondary in (...)

21Data must be carefully produced and mobilized when aiming to investigate something as complex and slippery as the circulation of water. Taking into account the fact that it embraces many actors (human, non-humans and hybrids), dimensions (material-discursive-symbolic), temporalities (biophysical, capitalist, etc.) and scales, we may promote a bricoleur type of researcher [Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 4].13 In so doing, researchers must display the setup process of the hydrosocial approach in a “making of” manner [Latour, 2006, p. 126–129]. At the same time, it is necessary to make space for presenting the researcher’s personal practice and position. So, as to re-position the researcher in relation to the empirical work, some encourage to think fieldwork as an engagement [Massey, 2003, p. 86]. As the anthropologist Ameigeiras [2007, p.116] argues, doing fieldwork “is not only a question of ‘going’ to a place, but in turn a way of ‘being’ and even more of a way of ‘positioning ourself’ in the field”.

  • 14 In the conflictive contexts of fieldwork, it is an enormous challenge to produce original and robus (...)

22In this vein, the Alianza Justicia Hídrica has recently dealt with situated knowledge and participatory action research [Roca-Servat, 2016; Damonte & García, 2016]. This proposal “aims at producing contextualized and thoughtful knowledge to transform the injustices of water and environmental related issues” [Roca-Servat, 2016, p. 384]. The purpose is to clarify the researcher’s material and symbolic relations to water by building arguments based on their own contextualized production of knowledge. This may lead researchers to acknowledge themselves as political agents in embedded power relations along the fuzzy border between the operations of research and the research itself [Roca-Servat, 2016; Katz, 1994]. In reflecting on the spatialities of knowledge-production [Massey, 2003] we can gain a deeper appreciation of what’s at stake when we engage with hidrosocial research. That is, a creative writing process that links our fieldwork practices to our critical texts14 while planting seeds for reclaiming and asserting alternative ways of thinking and managing water [Robbins, 2005].

Historicization and open-mindedness

23This final exit route articulates the closely-related empirical and epistemological aspects. We suggest historicizing the empirical hydrosocial cycle, which can lead to open-mindedness and help avoid circular reasoning. The various concepts within the hydrosocial approach refer to mutable processes that respond to conflicts in the reconfiguration of actors. The idea of cycle or flux may be deceiving when thinking that they follow linear or circular paths, when in reality, they are moved by progressive and regressive, that is, spiral paths. Certain configurations of hegemonic or contra-hegemonic actors may arise in specific situations. Through their appropriation, mobilization, and transformation of water strategies, these actors may cause changing focus, breakdowns, and milestones where water circulates.

24In this sense, we encourage studies that focus on current conflicts to keep in mind that water is an “historical subject” [Linton, 2010, p. 31]. Hence, it is necessary to historicize the hydrosocial cycle [Schmidt, 2014] and describe data, the emergence of actors, and breaking points. Some authors use the term “performance” to refer to reconstructing the hydrosocial cycle or water network through research praxis [Bolding, 2004; Linton, 2010]. Such historicization can allow, as we mentioned before, moving beyond the simplistic circular reasoning, generating instead tension and exceptions to the rule that are hallmarks of critical research. The use of hydrosocial concepts frequently implies different spatial scales and actors. In our own work [Martin & Larsimont, 2016], we argued for a “new” hydrosocial cycle in Mendoza even though our evidence is limited to a specific valley and agricultural activities. These data limitations have to be recalled as much as possible in the text.

25To summarize, we want to highlight what could be called the productivity of hydrosocial controversy. The exchange in “Ongoing dialogues with Erik Swyngedouw” [Del Moral et al., 2017] and the reply, “The pleasures of hydro-controversies” [Swyngedouw & Williams, 2017] comes to mind because it disrupts the atmosphere of consensus and breathes life into the hydrosocial approach. This kind of dialogue, which can criticize without abandoning mutual respect, seems to be remarkably productive since it forces us to go beyond the empirical debate to clarify our assumptions and theoretical tools. We are convinced that with such epistemological watchfulness, the hydrosocial approach will have a promising future and will continue to scrutinize an object as intricate and vital as water.


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1 As described by Rogers and Crow-Miller [2017, p. 2], “these overlapping concepts address how water and power interrelate, but they do so with different emphases”. Others scholars use terms such as hydrosocial research [Wesselink et al., 2017] or perspective [Mollinga, 2014].

2 The initial reports on the project [Swyngedouw, 1992; Swyngedouw & Bovarnick, 1994] showed, despite few theoretical references, the echo of the Lefebvrian thesis previously mentioned in the work of Neil Smith [1984], with a focus on the production of space, nature, and scale. There is also a strong connection between the seminal idea of water circulation and the urbanization of capital [Harvey, 1985].

3 The main theoretical influences are clear in “The City as a Hybrid,” which has four introductory epigraphs from Lefebvre, Harvey, Haraway, and Latour. The reader is also invited to have a glass of water as a starting point in the research process, a process that digs through the material, discursive, and symbolic relations of power, to move “from the local to the global, from the human to the nonhuman”. [Swyngedouw, 1996].

4 It is important to mention other theoretical contributions, debates, and regions such as Baviskar, 2007; Molle et al., 2009; Roth et al., 2005.

5 Although we recognize the potential of this new concept, we do not discuss it here in detail. However, it may face similar challenges to those of the hydrosocial approach, since territory is also a complex concept with multiple meanings [Raffestin, 1980].

6 This project gave rise to GOBACIT and then WATERLAT, which eventually merged into a single global network.

7 In contrast to some typical studies of the so-called “Third World Political ecology” [Bryant & Bailey, 1997] that usually consider Latin American as an object of study instead of a place of enunciation, studies that use the hydrosocial approach from the Global North seem to have more carefully dealt with the production of local knowledge (not translated into English). Some of these initiatives, though, were translated into Spanish, a crucial step for circulating ideas.

8 It is presented as a tool to ask ontological questions such as “what water is” and epistemological questions such as “how water is made known” but at the same time to ask about “the ways in which water internalizes social relations, social power and technology” [Linton & Budds, 2014, p. 10].

9 For example, the idea of “liminal landscape” [Zukin, 1991 cited in Swyngedouw, 2004, p. 29].

10 On several occasions, some tensions appear and there is no clear connection between the theory and the analyzed case. For example, some of the usual preliminary descriptions of the “study area” (Biophysics, Legal-territory, etc.) reproduce the dualisms that were meant to be overcome in the theory.

11 They state that the issue is not only about describing hybrid systems but rather about bringing light to the relations (rapports) of power that play a part in its existence.

12 For instance, the term “power geometries” is sometimes used to both introduce and summarize all the actors (humans, hybrids, and non-humans) and processes in a case study.

13 This line is particularly pertinent in Latin America, where there is limited access to secondary information and a frequent need to monitor the construction and interpretation of data.

14 In the conflictive contexts of fieldwork, it is an enormous challenge to produce original and robust knowledge without exposing the people and places we care about to problems.

Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1. A chronology and mapping of the hydrosocial approach’s maturation
Crédits Source: Larsimont & Martín, 2022
Fichier image/jpeg, 516k
Titre Table 2. Domains of the political ecology of water in Latin America
Crédits Source: Larsimont & Martín, 2022. The authors based on previous summaries by Robbins [2005], Boelens [2009 cited in Isch, 2012], and Martín & Bautista Justo [2015].
Fichier image/png, 331k


Robin Larsimont is geographer and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Complutense University of Madrid. He received his PhD degree in Geography at the University of Buenos Aires (2018), MCS from the University of Seville (2012) and BA from the Free University of Brussels (2010).

Facundo Martín is Assistant Professor at the National University of Cuyo (Department of Geography) and Researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research, Argentina.

Le texte et les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont sous Licence OpenEdition Books, sauf mention contraire.


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