CfP POLLEN20 –Waterscape, hydrosocial territory and other water words. Theorising space in the political ecology of water: Opportunities and challenges

Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN 20)
Contested Natures: Power, Possibility, Prefiguration
Brighton, United Kingdom
24-26 June 2020

Session organizers

If you would like to contribute, please send abstracts (250 words maximum) to Silvia Flaminio ( and Gaële Rouillé-Kielo ( by 15th November, 2019.

Session description

Over the past two decades, various concepts have been put forward by political ecologists to consider the connections between water, space and the social sphere and to acknowledge the influence of power relationships in the shaping of space. The concept of “waterscape” was introduced in political ecology in the late 1990s by Erik Swyngedouw (1999). Previously, it was extensively used in the fields of environmental psychology (Herzog, 1985) and of water history (Hundley, 1987). In political ecology, “waterscape” addresses the hybrid (natural and social) characteristics of a specific spatial configuration. It is also used to elaborate on the “hydrosocial cycle” (Linton and Budds 2014) described as “a mix of hydrological and social processes” (Linton 2010) – waterscapes being considered as “the geographical temporary outcomes of these processes” (Bouleau 2014).

More recently, the concept of “hydrosocial territory” (Boelens et al. 2016) has gained momentum in the anglophone sphere of political ecology and beyond. The concept takes into account “the contested imaginary and social-environmental materialization of a spatially bound multi-scalar network” (ibid.). By focusing on networks, the diversity of “hydro-territorial regimes” (Hommes, Boelens, and Maat 2016) shaped by groups of actors is acknowledged.

While both these concepts -“waterscape” and “hydrosocial territory”- are increasingly used in the literature, so far little attention has been paid to the (distinct) theorisation of space they convey. Against this background, this panel seeks to open a discussion on the opportunities and challenges they represent in a context of competing, sometimes contested, visions of water and of its future among groups of actors.

Therefore, we invite contributions which address this issue, building both on empirical and theoretical perspectives, such as:

  • Papers focusing on the development and use of these concepts. What perspectives have they brought to the theorisation of space in water studies? To what extent do they offer stimulating frameworks to reflect on case studies, such as those which show the unequal distribution of power among actors? Are these frameworks adequate or rather too “encompassing” (Mollinga, 2014) to conceptualise the varying and complex outcomes of the relationships between societies, water and space?
  • Contributions that discuss the fruitful but complex dialogue between concepts reflecting on the social-water-space nexus and approaches relying on differing epistemologies. How are concepts such as “waterscape” or “hydrosocial territory” articulated with the notions of space, place, networks and territories used in social sciences and whose definitions vary along with different epistemological traditions? How can new perspectives developed in other linguistic or national contexts (see Loftus 2017) help enrich the theorisation of space in the political ecology of water?
  • Studies relying on these concepts to analyse empirical data in an effort to make sense of contemporary spatial dynamics entrenched in situated contexts and/or linked to the implementation of conservation projects (PES programmes, urban water demand management, etc.) or infrastructure plans (water supply, irrigation or hydro-power schemes, etc. ) in urban or rural areas.


Boelens, Rutgerd, Jaime Hoogesteger, Erik Swyngedouw, Jeroen Vos, and Philippus Wester. 2016. ‘Hydrosocial Territories: A Political Ecology Perspective’. Water International 41 (1): 1–14.

Bouleau, Gabrielle. 2014. ‘The Co-Production of Science and Waterscapes: The Case of the Seine and the Rhône Rivers, France’. Geoforum 57: 248–57.

Herzog, Thomas R. 1985. ‘A Cognitive Analysis of Preference for Waterscapes’. Journal of Environmental Psychology 5 (3): 225–41.

Hommes, Lena, Rutgerd Boelens, and Harro Maat. 2016. ‘Contested Hydrosocial Territories and Disputed Water Governance: Struggles and Competing Claims over the Ilisu Dam Development in Southeastern Turkey’. Geoforum 71: 9–20.

Hundley, Norris. 1987. ‘California’s Original Waterscape: Harmony & Manipulation’. California History 66 (1): 2–11.

Linton, Jamie. 2010. What Is Water?: The History of a Modern Abstraction. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Linton, Jamie, and Jessica Budds. 2014. ‘The Hydrosocial Cycle: Defining and Mobilizing a Relational-Dialectical Approach to Water’. Geoforum 57: 170–80.

Loftus, Alex. 2019. ‘Political Ecology I: Where Is Political Ecology?’ Progress in Human Geography 43 (1): 172–82.

Mollinga, Peter P. 2014. ‘Canal Irrigation and the Hydrosocial Cycle: The Morphogenesis of Contested Water Control in the Tungabhadra Left Bank Canal, South India’. Geoforum 57: 192–204.

Swyngedouw, Erik. 1999. ‘Modernity and Hybridity: Nature, Regeneracionismo, and the Production of the Spanish Waterscape, 1890-1930’. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 89 (3): 443–65.

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