Water Justice: Blatant grabbing practices, subtle recognition politics and the struggles for fair water worlds

R.A. Boelens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


This chapter outlines multiple layers and expressions of water-based injustices—from brutal water-grabbing and exclusion, to subtle politics of misrecognition, equalization and alignment. Dominant discourses and policies, overly technical language and the processes of naturalization (‘making things seem natural’) and normalization (‘making things seen normal’) hide water’s intrinsically political nature: they make it difficult to see water governance and distribution as always dealing with ‘justice’. They legitimize particular water histories, institutions, worldviews, knowledges, norms and practices, and subordinate or deny others. This significantly influences the distribution of water, water-related decision-making powers and the social and environmental benefits and burdens that ensue. Conceptualizing and materializing alternative water governance orders necessarily entails critically linking the issues of economic distribution, cultural recognition, political participation and ecological integrity. Simply summing up these issues of ‘recognition’, ‘participation’ and ‘distribution’, as in mainstream ‘integrated’ water governance, or dealing with them separately, may seriously affect marginalized groups’ water interests and support dominant policy efforts to undermine normative and political/cultural diversity in the water world. Far from legalistic, technocratic and economistic truth regimes that deny water’s intrinsic complexity, contextuality and political ordering, this chapter advocates the societal co-production of water knowledge and governance forms. Transdisciplinary co-creation of knowledge—inviting, in particular, the water knowledges and interests of people who experience water injustices, and involving both confrontation and solidarity among the water user, activist and scientific communities—will support understanding of the workings of dominant water control technologies and institutions and the construction of alternative water-societal orders.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnvironmental Justice
Subtitle of host publicationKey Issues
EditorsBrendan Coolsaet
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages15
ISBN (Print)9780429029585
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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