The nexus between water, energy and food in cities: towards conceptualizing socio-material interconnections

Moises Covarrubias*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Sustainable use and supply of natural resources dedicated to feeding urban life are becoming increasingly complex in a time of rapid urbanization and climate change. Sustainable governance of Water–Energy–Food (WEF) requires innovative and cross-sectorial systems of provisioning. However, practitioners have often treated WEF as separate domains, while ignoring their interconnectedness. What is missing is an ‘Urban Nexus’ perspective, which assumes that environmental flows of WEF interact and relate to one another in achieving urban sustainable development. This paper contributes to theorizing the urban nexus and to understand its emergence and governance from a more socio-material perspective. It offers a conceptual framework that helps to shed light on the social and material flows shaping connections between the sectors of WEF, and the actors facilitating these connections. The paper suggests that switchers and programmers link and configure the socio-material flows of WEF facilitating the emergence of nexus governance networks and nexus programs. In doing so, the paper provides three examples of cities to test the conceptual framework by analyzing their main challenges and examples around the nexus. It demonstrates that material and social dimensions of WEF might not play an equal role in steering synergies or trade-offs—either material or social flows and their agents can be central in facilitating a nexus or in preventing it to take shape. The paper argues that material-focused methodologies need to be complemented with a social flows analysis that pays attention to the daily practice, policies, ideologies, networks or any kind of socio-cultural meaning shaping WEF provisioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)277-287
Number of pages11
JournalSustainability Science
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


  • Environmental flows
  • Networks
  • Urban governance
  • Urban nexus
  • Water–Energy–Food

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The nexus between water, energy and food in cities: towards conceptualizing socio-material interconnections'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this