Broadcasted Seminar on “Water Justice and the Commons”

Broadcasted Seminar on “Water Justice and the Commons”

Date: Thursday, May 24th 2018
Time: From 15 to 18h
Venue: Room Z/022 ICTA-UAB

The conventional theory of the commons has been criticized for its relative inattention to how historically-shaped patterns of power, conflict, the ‘state’ and the broader political-economic context shape the access to and uses of common resources, and distributional consequences of different institutional arrangements for community-based natural resource management. The tragedy of the commons that Hardin had so popularized is not just the result of commoners’ individualistic behavior but may well also stem from the acts of more powerful, profit-seeking actors. Benefits and costs of resource management are commonly unequally distributed and shaped by power relations and political-economic structures; these conditions often lead to social movements and conflicts. Indeed, it has been argued that the history of commons has always been a history of struggle between the dynamic of enclosures driven by the systemic need for capital accumulation, and that of commoning to defend and reconstitute commons.

The scholarship of water justice can help move the theory of the commons forward. Water is life, but also power. Its governance is colored by profound contestation among competing uses and users. Growing demand, and worsening availability and quality, intensify water access and control disputes with every passing day. Megacities, mining, forestry, industry, and agribusiness claim an increasingly large share of available surface and groundwater reserves. Water grabbing and pollution generate poverty and endanger ecosystems’ sustainability. Therefore, struggles involve both economic/political control over water and the divergent meanings and values assigned to it; they include material control over water use systems and the right to culturally define and politically organize water governance systems. Water also mobilizes people and often drives formation of grassroots institutions grounded in shared rules and collective rights that seek to defend against internal and external injustices, not seldom extending their influence, strength and defense by building multi-scalar and multi-actors alliances.

Embedded in the debates around the commons and social mobilization, this Seminar will first discuss the multi-author “Water Justice” book just published by Cambridge University Press and the Justicia Hídrica / Water Justice Alliance ( The book scrutinizes how, beyond the large, visible injustices, there are also many “hidden” water world injustices, subtly masked as “rational,” “equitable,” and “democratic.” The book features critical conceptual approaches, including analysis of environmental, social, cultural, and legal issues surrounding the distribution and management of water, and lays new ground for challenging current water governance forms and unequal power structures. It also provides inspiration for building alternative water realities, often linked to rooted and innovative commons and mobilizations ‘from below’. The webinar will also present three new (Spanish language) books, published with Abyayala, part of the Water Justice Alliance book series.

Additionally, the Seminar will include a series of individual presentations on cutting edge topics associated to water justice and the commons. The presentations will be followed by a discussion about ways to move forward in the interface between these two research strands.


15:00   Book/s presentation (Water Justice book series)
15:00  Interventions by:

  • Tom Perreault (Maxwell School, Syracuse University)
  • Bibiana Duarte and Rutgerd Boelens (Wageningen U and CEDLA/U. of Amsterdam)
  • Joan Martinez Alier (ICTA-UAB)
16:00  Break
16:10  Individual presentations
16:10  Introduction to Water Justice concept, practice and scholarship (Rutgerd Boelens,  Wageningen U and CEDLA/U. of Amsterdam)
16:20  Small-scale Artisanal mining and water justice: a pending agenda (Gisselle Vila, Social Sciences D.,PUPC)
16:30  Water remunicipalization in Barcelona (Hug March Corbella, IN3, UOC)
16:40  Dam building conflicts and environmental justice (Daniela del Bene, ICTA-UAB)
16:50  Environmental justice movements & commons management (Sergio Villamayor-Tomas, ICTA-UAB)
17:00  Discussion
17:00  Synthesis from individual presentations (Fabio de Castro, CEDLA/U. of Amsterdam)
17:10  Open discussion (Fabio de Castro, moderator)
17:50  Closing note (Jeroen Vos, Wageningen University)
18:00  Drinks

Technical details for remote connection
To join our broadcasted seminar, please follow this link. The full recording will be available on the “International WaTERS Network youtube channel” the conclusion of the event (

No registration is needed, but for participants who would like to receive 2 or 3 digital chapters of the new Cambridge University Press book «Water Justice», or any further readings related to the presentations, please send your e-mail address to any of the organizers or temporarily downloadable from the Justicia Hidrica alliance website:

Contact information
Rutgerd Boelens:
Sergio Villamayor-Tomas:

Note on the organizers

Justicia Hídrica/Water Justice is a broad international alliance, working on research, capacity building and action. Its objective is to contribute to more water justice, meaning more democratic water policies and more sustainable development practices that promote a more equitable water distribution. Central questions that guide the Justicia Hídrica Alliance are, for instance:  What are the historical and current mechanisms that lead to unequal water and water rights accumulation/ distribution? What characterizes the water conflicts that result thereof, with regard to contents, mechanisms, structural contradictions, and possible results or solutions? How do grassroots organizations and civil society actors develop multi-scale strategies to combat water injustices and suggest alternative water societies? The alliance wants to combine innovative theoretical work on accumulation, conflict and mobilization, with capacity building, diffusion, and policy advocacy.

The webinar is co-organized in collaboration with the International WaTERS Network and ICTA, Autonomous University of Barcelona. The International WaTERS Network is a partnership focused on: promoting collaborative and comparative research on urban water resilience, with specific focus on rural-urban linkages and institutional, social and equity dimensions; fostering knowledge mobilization through academic and policy dialogue in our Network and beyond.

ICTA-UAB ( is a multidisciplinary centre that promotes academic research and postgraduate education in the environmental sciences. ICTA is being increasingly recognized as the birthplace of the “Barcelona school” of political ecology. Contributions on environmental justice (e.g., “environmentalism of the poor” and Environmental Justice Atlas), and degrowth (e.g., “Degrowth: A vocabulary for a new era, Routledge) are examples of seminal contributions of the school to the field. Most recently, a number of scholars have turned their attention to the theory and practice of the commons, from both the political ecology and institutional perspectives.


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