Communities and Commons

January, Thursday 10th  ; 9h00 – 11h00

Moderator : Sarah Botton, AFD

Dam Removal as a New Imaginary for Rivers: an Hydrosocial Territory Perspective
Ludovic Drapier

Dam removal has imposed on the environmental agenda as an important and palpable symbol of river restoration in several countries globally (Garcia de Leaniz, 2008; Lejon, Renöfält et Nilsson, 2009) including in the USA (Doyle, Harbor et Stanley, 2003; Hart et al., 2002; Magilligan et al., 2016; Warner et Pejchar, 2001). The globalization of this river management framework raises questions about the mechanisms underlying it and its implementation at the local level. We propose here to analyses this global movement through the lens of “hydrosocial territory”. This notion invites to consider the material and symbolic dimension of the water space (river, valley, basin, etc.) within which social and economic activities, cultural and recreational practices, both individual and collective, take place (Boelens et al., 2016; Hommes et al, 2016). Similarly to Rodríguez-de-Francisco et Boelens (2016), we understand hydrosocial territory as discursive representations, i.e. as a socio-cultural construction built around hydro-social relationships. These representations can overlap on a single space and be supported by a diversity of actors acting at different scales and with unequal powers (Hommes et al., 2016).
Our in-depths interviews with dam removal advocates informed us on this new form of territoriality. Promotion of idealized free-flowing rivers relies on historic reference to pristine rivers and enrollment of non-humans such as migratory fish. This discourse highlights logical and fixed links in the definition of dams as a “problem” in the functioning of hydrosystems and results in making dam removal as the only rational, scientifically-grounded decision to take. All these elements contribute to the formation of new hydro-social territories focused on free-flowing rivers in which human activities are considered to disrupt a natural balance, leaning towards a form of “purification” (Latour, 1991). Free-flowing river policy draws on other policies such as ecosystem services (Auerbach et al., 2014), public safety (Drapier et al., 2017) or economic rejuvenation (Purrinton, 2016) which actually reinforce and legitimize it.
Building on two local examples in the US characterized by forms of engagement towards local communities, river protection and environmental awareness, we highlight two different strategies regarding this discourse at the local level. In New Jersey, the Musconetcong Watershed Association aligned with the vision of the promoters. One of the key stakes was to modify the perspectives of inhabitants regarding dams to make it coherent with the dominant representation (“they think of it [the dam] as their waterfall. They think of that as an aesthetic feature of the town. And it’s hard for them to understand that the river as it should be is also an aesthetic feature”). This can be understood as a form of “territorial governmentalization” which aims to align local behavior with new categories (Boelens et al., 2016). The other case in the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed in southern New England illustrates a watershed association which was not prone to entirely embrace this agenda because of local concerns. It thus forced the federal agencies to modify their plan in order to incorporate local demands (“we don’t want to accept money from your agency if you’re not receptive to modifying the plans and the intentions based on the input of the community”).
The analysis of two case studies in the United States illustrates how an overlap between of diverging imaginary territories can be negotiated at the local scale. Both cases demonstrate that the implementation of a restoration policy reflects power relations between networks that integrate both human and non-human actors and that are deployed on different scales and that these power relations are not necessarily expressed in the conflict.


Sociology of Water Governance in Brazil: Agents, Discourses and Institutions
Rodrigo Martins

The technical and scientific innovations of the last hundred years notwithstanding, industrialized societies are paradoxically confronted, in the early 21st century, with a problem that characterized them at the end of the 19th century, namely, ensuring access to clean drinking water. From a “common good” to the condition of scarce commodity, this natural resource continues to be the target of social resignifications. This paper will argue that, in essence, these resignifications reveal political and cultural conflicts which, in some contexts, go so far as to overshadow the immediate situation of physical scarcity.
This article seeks to present a sociological interpretation of the Brazilian experience of the resignification of water through the efforts of economic designation of this resource. This resignification will be problematized in terms of its relationship with the conceptual repertoire of neoclassical environmental economics concerning the efficient allocation of scarce resources.
To this end, we focus on cases of arrangements involving the agents that occupied key positions in the reformulation of water governance structures in Brazil. These cases were constructed based on a documentary survey and field research carried out between 2009 and 2015. The documentary survey involved, among others, searches in archives of the National Water Agency, of the national and state water resources councils, of the National Council on Water Resources and of River Basin Committees. The field research consisted of semi-structured interviews of agents of the aforementioned arrangements.
The analytical frameworks of the interpretation developed here deal with two conceptual fields. The first one refers to the figurational sociology proposed by Elias (1991, 2001) and its focus on configurational levels, relational hierarchies and interdependence as a specific arrangement of social forces. The second conceptual field involves the critique of universalism in modern science and of certain economic hypotheses of social conduct – hypotheses that, in large part, guide the new set of water related problems in the country. From this field, the study will use as conceptual tools the interpretations formulated by Bourdieu (1982, 2000) about the authority of the scientific concept and its naturalization, as well as the consolidation of economic matrices of perception, knowledge and recognition of the social world.
The results of this study reveal that the logic of maintaining the hegemony of an economic-environmental discourse is based not only on its argumentative force but also, and fundamentally, on the circle of believers with dispositional resources and interests in the recursive manipulation of this discourse. Thus, in the case of Brazil, the reproduction of the discourse of rational water management is also related to an international and multilateral institutional order that involved, for instance, the cooperation of different research and management groups of the World Bank. But this reproduction is also and above all due to the recognition of the agents in the discourse (such as managers, technicians, engineers and/or economists) and to the ability of these agents to transform this discourse into a power resource, shaping situations of social distinction in the new democratic and participatory water management in the country.


Cochabamba: la emergencia de servicios de agua alterntativos y su efecto territorial.
Juan Cabrera

The characteristics of social production of habitat in Latin America have been studied from different perspectives and dimensions, however, attention to community water management as a factor of urbanization and fragmentation has been reduced. This notion does not refer only to the provision of the service, but to the generation of a series of infrastructures and services linked to social production developed through socio-spatial strategies of community water operators (at the same time neighborhoods), which define the characteristics and rhythm of the urbanization process, in addition to scenarios of dislocation of physical-social relationships around water access and control.


Water Commons in Bolivia Twenty Years After Cochabamba: Resistance, Efficiency and Topicality of a Community Alternative
Claude Le Gouill, Andrés Fonseca Zubieta, Marcelo Pérez Mercado

Bolivia has become a world reference for the defense of common goods since the “water war” of Cochabamba 2000 around the slogan “Water is our Carajo!” and the defense of community systems and the “uses and local customs” (Perreault 2006, Linsalata 2015) This water management emerges from an old community tradition (Hylton and Thomson, 2010), based on the experience of the peasant-indigenous or mining communities, as the sociologist Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar said, intellectual activist who accompanied this struggle from Cochabamba, a “popular community” horizon was created in Bolivia that refers to “collective practices of production of the common” and reproduction of the community and its well-being (Gutiérrez Aguilar, 2015). Almost 20 years after the first “water war”, we will propose an analysis of the modes of community organization of water in Bolivia from the case of Sacaba, a municipality bordering Cochabamba municipality, and their capacity to brave social and environmental “shocks”.


A political anthropology and commons theory analysis of watershed management experiences in France, Brazil and Argentina.
Patrick Laigneau

This paper describes a gradual building and transformation of a political understanding of water agencies and basin committees by the first author. Fascinated by these organizations, Patrick Laigneau discovered in 1998 the limitations imposed on them by the French government who criticized and considered suppressing them. Stepping back, he spent two years in Africa, and then moved to Brazil where he followed a cursus in anthropology. He met with very different basin committees from those he knew, leading him to formulate his doctoral research project: revisiting the political history of the French water agencies and committees, looking at how the pioneers of this institutions had tried to solve the same issues raised by stakeholders in new basin committees and water agencies in Brazil.
With French and Brazilian colleagues Bernard Barraqué and Rosa Formiga-Johnsson, he investigates how the French Water Agencies and Committees have worked to institutionalize water management as a common pool resource since the 1960s, although it has not always been recognized as such, and how similar organizations created in Brazil in the 1990s attempt to do the same.
The paper explains the researchers’ choice to use the commons paradigm, presents some of the results of the comparative analysis of participatory watershed management in France and Brazil, and the research perspectives allowed by the inclusion of a new case study in Argentina.