WRM-31306 Political Ecology of Water


Credits 6.00

Teaching methodContact hours
Group work5
Excursion (one day)7
Course coordinator(s)dr. ir. JMC Vos
Lecturer(s)dr. E Shah
prof. dr. ir. RA Boelens
dr. ir. JA Bolding
dr. ir. JMC Vos
Examiner(s)prof. dr. ir. RA Boelens
dr. ir. JA Bolding

Language of instruction:


Assumed knowledge on:

WRM-34806 Irrigation and Development; Relevant field experience; Knowledge on water technology; operation and management and project implementation.

Continuation courses:

MSc Thesis Water Resources Management.


This course explains and elaborates a political ecology approach to analyse water governance and intervention. Political ecology is a body of combined theoretical approaches that have in common that they put politics and power relations at the heart of the analysis of social struggles over natural resources (that is, knowing, intervening in, and governing nature). Political ecology approaches thereby focus on context and history-rootedness; the social and political construction of nature and natural resource governance (socio-natures); multiple, dynamic and interlaced scales; while aiming to understand and support ' environmental justice' . The course comprises three highly related themes: (1) introduction to the political ecology debates and approaches and their application to water questions; (2) the critical analysis of water governance interventions and reforms of the water sector; and (3) the exploration of alternative strategies for knowing, distributing and governing water as informed by different political ecology approaches.
Over the past decades a growing body of experience and knowledge has developed on the institutional, organizational and political aspects of water management, such as the development of water users organizations and participatory irrigation management, participatory design of irrigation infrastructure, development of pluralistic water rights frameworks, cultural politics of water- based identities, payment for environmental services and market-based governance models, reform of water policies and bureaucracies, understanding and composition of multi-scalar ' hydro-social territories' and grassroots struggles for water justice.
This course covers these topics by presenting concepts and methodologies derived from the political ecology approaches that consider equity and democracy as key concerns in studying and transforming 'government water agencies', market-environmentalist water policies, local water management organisations, and water-based mobilizations and grassroots movements. This is placed in the context of wider developments in the water sector as well as contemporary policy and governance debates. The focus of this course is not only on providing analytical tools allowing students to unpack the mechanics of power, but also on empowering both students and stakeholder organisations to jointly engage in a process to design countervailing strategies that result in a more just distribution of both access and governance of water resources.

The study of the Groningen gas extraction case forms an integrative element of the course. We will visit various stakeholders in Groningen during a one-day excursion, and students write a group essay on a topic related to the Groningen gas extraction case applying concepts presented in the course.

Learning outcomes:

After successful completion of this course students are expected to be able to:
- understand and debate current political ecology concepts, methodologies and approaches for analysing water science and water control, and for proposing water policy and sector reforms;
- apply political ecological concepts and methods for analysing water (re)allocation programs, water governance and water sector interventions;
- acquire skills that facilitate change processes, such as the use of role plays in anticipated problematic contexts to reflect on possible institutional change strategies;
- develop a critical perspective on water governance and water reforms with a focus on equity and democracy;
- propose critical pathways for empowering both students and stakeholder organisations to jointly engage in a process to design countervailing strategies that result in a more just distribution of both access and governance of water resources and improve the participation of water users in design and management processes.


Study activities are threefold:
- the course consists of three blocks of one week each, with each block consisting of lectures, tutorials, group work and presentations. The first session of the course introduces the themes of the course and the course programme;
- as introduction to the lectures literature is studied;
- small groups of students will work on assignments covering the 3 main subjects. The group assignments are complementary in order to broaden and deepen the collective learning process. Each group will present their work, followed by discussion.

- Excursion to Groningen (gas extraction) as part of the group work.


The overall mark for the course is made up of four separate marks. The final grade will be composed of the grade for the group essay (40%) and the grades for the three thematic blocks (three times 20%). The grades for the thematic blocks are individual and group work assignments. Late submission of the essay will result in a penalty. For both individual and group assignments a minimum mark of 5.5 is required to pass the course.


The course materials will be made available online at the beginning of the course.

Restricted Optional for: MILInternational Land and Water ManagementMScB: Spec. B - Water, Society and Technology4WD
MILInternational Land and Water ManagementMScD: Spec. D - Flexible Configurations for Innovative Minds4WD