Making Rivers, Producing Futures: The Rise of an Eco-Modern River Imaginary in Dutch Climate Change Adaptation

Lotte de Jong*, Gert Jan Veldwisch, Lieke Anna Melsen, Rutgerd Boelens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In the field of climate change adaptation, the future matters. River futures influence the way adaptation projects are implemented in rivers. In this paper, we challenge the ways in which dominant paradigms and expert claims monopolise the truth concerning policies and designs of river futures, thereby sidelining and delegitimising alternative river futures. So far, limited work has been performed on the power of river futures in the context of climate change adaptation. We conceptualised the power of river futures through river imaginaries, i.e., collectively performed and publicly envisioned reproductions of riverine socionatures mobilised through truth claims of social life and order. Using the Border Meuse project as a case study, a climate change adaptation project in a stretch of the river Meuse in the south of the Netherlands, and a proclaimed success story of climate adaptation in Dutch water management, we elucidated how three river imaginaries (a modern river imaginary, a market-driven imaginary, and an eco-centric river imaginary) merged into an eco-modern river imaginary. Importantly, not only did the river futures merge, but their aligned truth regimes also merged. Thus, we argue that George Orwell’s famous quote, “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past” can be extended to “who controls the future, controls how we see and act in the present, and how we rediscover the past”.
Original languageEnglish
Article number598
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2024


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