A Relational Approach to Water and Justice

Authors: Amber Wutich*, , Wendy Jepson, Texas A&M University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Human Rights, Political Geography
Keywords: water, justice, rights, informal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Maurepas, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Research on water tends to emphasize the importance of formal governance arrangements in determining whether water systems are just or unjust. Such formal, reticulated systems are posited as the ideal form to achieve distributive justice, the hallmark of modern, uniform provision. Yet, millions of people globally rely partially or wholly on more diverse and informally governed systems of water provision. Some have argued a prima facie case that these informal systems are unjust. We argue that rather than determining water justice in terms of water delivery form, we need to reorient our evaluative frame to one that focuses on social, cultural and economic relations to evaluate whether water provisioning is just or unjust. In this paper, we argue that a relational approach can advance our understanding of water and justice beyond the formal configurations. That is, water justice is securing the “ability to engage with and benefit from the sustained hydro-social processes that support water flows, water quality, and water services in support of human capabilities and wellbeing” (Jepson et al 2017). We focus, in particular, on recognition or interactional injustices—that is, unfairness in social and interpersonal interactions, conduct, or treatment. We apply this framework to research conducted in various global sites. We conclude with practical recommendations of ways in which a relational approach to water can advance justice in communities.

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