Rooted Water Collectives in a Modernist and Neoliberal Imaginary: Threats and Perspectives for Rural Water Commons

Moritz Hofstetter*, Alex Bolding, Rutgerd Boelens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Water schemes that rely on user (co-) ownership and collective action have been described in the irrigation sector for a long time. Still, interest in such forms of (co-) investment in the domestic/multiple use sector is more recent. To address the persisting issue of rural water service, (what has been coined) self-supply is proclaimed to be a (supposedly) low-cost, sustainable manner to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). User (co-) investments are to be promoted and realized through the creation of an enabling policy environment and development of, and training on, low-cost technologies through government and NGO support and private sector-steered access to such technologies. In this article, we apply the Rooted Water Collectives (RWC) framework to describe two such schemes, one in South Africa and one in Switzerland. The data collection followed an action research methodology, with the main author being involved in interventions in all three schemes. We show here that these collectives create positions of purpose within societies and that what motivates people is to help themselves and contribute to the greater good of the community. This article shows that interventions to foster and sustain such collective actions that follow a neoliberal/modernist imaginary negatively affect their viability since these collectives, through their other-than-capitalist interactions, form part of and depend on an alternative imaginary. We conclude that interventions aiming to strengthen forms of collective action can only succeed if they recognize contextuality, unequal power relationships, and grass-rooted forms of interdependence and collaboration, and actively build on and work toward such alternative, more convivial imaginaries.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3736
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2023


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