The Battlefield of Water Rights: Rule Making Amidst Conflicting Normative Frameworks in the Ecuadorian Highlands

R. Boelens, B. Doornbos

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Property relations in irrigation and water rights distribution have become central issues in current policy debates and rural development initiatives. Nevertheless, there is still a great lack of understanding about what water rights-in-practice are, how they function, and how they are created, consolidated, and transformed from abstract sociolegal categories into local procedures and in-the-field practices. Understanding users’ rationality and local expressions of water rights in peasant and indigenous communities is of crucial importance if we want to comprehend their claim for water rights and perhaps support local empowerment processes in common property water control systems. This article explores irrigation development in the Ceceles zone in Ecuador. It is based on action research that has pulled the researchers into an analysis of the peasants’ struggle to acquire and define water rights and to achieve recognition for the legitimacy of their normative system authorizing those rights. The article analyzes how different interest groups have sought to defend and control rule making amidst conflicting normative frameworks. The research made clear that actual water rights are not simply defined in lawyers’ offices and at engineers’ design desks; they are negotiated and enforced in processes of social struggle. Moreover, water rights not only give access to water but also constitute power relations that define the control over decision making on water management. Water rights are dynamic, and even long-standing rights may be sacrificed to strengthen local autonomous organization.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)343-355
    JournalHuman Organization
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2001

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