Exploring Local Responses to the Challenges of Water Sustainability

The critical importance of fresh water resources is highlighted year after year at international conferences and in policy documents by numerous international development institutions, state governments, and municipalities. The 2018 United Nations World Water Development Report stresses that water remains a major sustainability and human development challenge as global demand and the global water cycle intensify while simultaneously 2 billion people still lack access to safe-drinking water. According to the UN, such competing demands call for better water management that draws from traditional “greener” local knowledge instead of complete reliance on the human-built “grey” infrastructure.


Reflecting the myriad local water challenges worldwide, the political ecology of water literature has turned its critical eye to illuminate on the complexities of water problems and water crises – ecological, infrastructural and inherently political – with a strong focus on the Global South. Major issues highlighted include socially-constructed water scarcity and neoliberal urban drinking-water services provisioning (Bakker 2007, Ioris 2012). Further, studies have emphasized the differential access to water that results from interactions between water, technologies, neoliberal governments, and power in the context of water development interventions (Birkenholtz 2013, Loftus 2009, Swyngedouw 2007). Feminist political ecologists (Harris 2015) advance post-colonial, decolonial, and feminist inspired alternatives to the neoliberalization of environmental governance more generally.  


Attention has also been placed on the water struggles of social movements, particularly in relation to water reforms that benefit corporations (Perreault 2008). Another set of studies have examined the efforts of community-based water management groups and state institutions to address water governance issues (Fischer 2017, Romano 2017). More recently, in spite of a predominant focus on urban water issues and water scarcity, feminist political ecology has begun to address water quality issues like water pollution and its impacts on rural communities (Sultana 2011). Cultural approaches include the political analysis of water ontologies, discourses, and their repercussions for governance (Boelens 2014, Yates et al. 2017).


In light of the 2018 World Water Development Report, we are particularly interested in local, community-level knowledge, responses, and actions to address water management challenges and lay the foundations for sustainable futures. That said, we encourage contributions from scholars that reflect a range of perspectives on water sustainability, water management, and water governance challenges that can expand our understanding of human-water dynamics, from the biophysical to the cultural to the political-economic, etc. We encourage submissions that employ qualitative and/or quantitative methods and explore water issues from around the globe.


Possible topics include:


  • Virtual Water Trade (differences in impacts at the global, regional, and local)

  • Water resource management schemes

  • Water pollution and water quality issues

  • Water scarcity

  • Hydrosocial cycle, socio-natures, and techno-natures

  • Water Justice

  • Drinking-water services provisioning

  • Water development interventions and water policy

  • Water and civil society

  • Waterscapes

  • Socio-hydrology

  • Water and urban ecology

  • Water and climate change


Please submit abstracts that are between 150 and 300 words no later than December 7th to  both Dayna Cueva Alegría at dayna.ca@uky.edu and Karen Kinslow at karen.kinslow@uky.edu.




Bakker, K. (2007). Trickle Down? Private sector participation and the pro-poor water supply debate in Jakarta, Indonesia. Geoforum, 38(5), 855–868.


Boelens, R. (2014). Cultural politics and the hydrosocial cycle: Water, power and identity in the Andean highlands. Geoforum, 57, 234–247.


Birkenholtz, T. (2013). “On the network, off the map”: developing intervillage and intragender differentiation in rural water supply. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 31, 354–371.


Harris, L. M. (2015) Hegemonic waters and rethinking nature otherwise.” In W. Harcourt

and I. L. Nelson (eds) Practicing Feminist Political Ecologies: Moving Beyond the ‘Green Economy.’ London: Zed Books, 157-181.


Ioris, A. A. R. (2012). The neoliberalization of water in Lima, Peru. Political Geography, 31(5), 266–278.


Fischer, H. W. (2017). Harnessing the State: Social Transformation, Infrastructural Development, and the Changing Governance of Water Systems in the Kangra District of the Indian Himalayas. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(2), 480–489.


Loftus, A. (2009). Rethinking Political Ecologies of Water. Third World Quarterly, 30(5), 953–968.


Perreault, T. (2008). Custom and Contradiction: Rural Water Governance and the Politics of Usos y Costumbres in Bolivia’s Irrigators’ Movement. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 98(4), 834–854.


Romano, S. T. (2017). Building Capacities for Sustainable Water Governance at the Grassroots: “Organic Empowerment” and Its Policy Implications in Nicaragua. Society & Natural Resources, 30(4), 471–487.


Sultana, F. (2011). Suffering for water, suffering from water: Emotional geographies of resource access, control and conflict. Geoforum, 42(2), 163–172.


Swyngedouw E. (2007). Technonatural revolutions: the scalar politics of Franco’s hydro-social dream for Spain, 1939-1975. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, 32, 9–28.


Yates, J. S., Harris, L.M., and Wilson, N.J. (2017). Multiple ontologies of water: politics, conflicts and implications for governance. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 0(0): 1-19.


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