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Mollinga, Peter P.
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ZEF Working Paper Series 31
This paper uses the growing volume of scholarly work on 'water and politics' to conceptually and methodologically frame an approach to the social analysis of water resources management. This paper sets out the thrust and focus of such a 'political sociology of water resources management'. The framing draws theoretical insights from sociology, development studies, and, obviously, water resources studies. The main theoretical inputs are: a) critical realism as the general ontological and epistemological foundation (Bhaskar, 1989; Sayer, 1984); b) sociological theory on structure-agency dynamics (Giddens, 1984; Archer, 1995) and the notion of public sociology (Burawoy, 2005a); development studies' understanding of the different meanings of 'development' (Thomas, 2000); d) theory on politics and social power (Kerkvliet, 1990; Lukes, 2005); and e) my own reading of the water resources literature through the lens of the boundary concept of 'water control'. The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 1 explains where the attempt at defining a field of water resources management studies in this particular way comes from. The section situates the field in relation to development sociology as the intersection of sociology and development studies; discusses how the notions of discipline and scientific community help to understand the field's characteristics; and briefly presents my own intellectual trajectory as part of this account. Section 2 discusses the object of a political sociology of water resources management. That discussion has four components: a) presenting 'water control' as a boundary concept that captures the multidimensionality of water resources management; b) conceptualising the interplay of structure and agency in water resources management as 'morphogenetic practice', that is, a cyclic process stretched over time and space; c) discussing the embeddedness of water resources management in the broader process of development; and d) showing the inherently political nature of water resources management and presenting a framework to analyse the working of social power in water control. Section 3 maps the field by presenting the five domains in which contested water resources management plays out: a) the everyday politics of water; b) the politics of water policy in the context of sovereign states; c) hydropolitics; d) the global politics of water; and e) the linkages through which water resources management issues travel across domains. Section 4 presents the approach and method of the political sociology of water resources management. The presentation moves in four steps: a) a discussion of Burawoy's notion of 'public sociology' to clarify the 'for what and for whom' of knowledge generation in the field; b) a discussion of the unit of investigation of the field - arguing that 'problemshed' and 'issue network' are more helpful units than 'watershed' and 'basin'; c) an argument for a comparative approach to research in the field given existing regional and sector fragmentation of water resources studies; and d) a look at the challenges for further development of the field.
Water resources management
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