Critical geographies of water policy I

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups:
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 10:15 AM / 11:30 AM
Room: Plaza Court 4, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Organizers: Marc Tadaki, Kiely McFarlane
Chairs: Marc Tadaki

Call for Submissions

For this paper session, we invite contributions that critically examine the politics of water policy in practice, including the histories, formation, interpretation, institutionalisation, implementation, and revision of policies and policy instruments. We welcome a range of critical perspectives, from those who explore the everyday politics of policy implementation; to examinations of power-knowledge or discourse in the construction of policy problems, solutions, or interpretations; to political-economic and -ecologic analyses of policy norms, directions, and outcomes. Possible paper topics may include, but are not limited to:

Water policy innovations or legal reform
Improvisation and the politics of implementation
Networks and markets for water policies
Counter/hegemonic environmental science-policy relations
Colonial and/or decolonising policy modalities
Civil society and the shaping of policy meanings and effects
Formal versus informal policy spaces
More-than-human dimensions of (and limits to) water policy
Role of experts in shaping and contesting water policy meanings
Discretion in the environmental bureaucracy
Participation and the democratic basis of policy

If you’re interested in presenting in this paper session, please send your name and institutional affiliation, your abstract (250 words or less), and your AAG registration PIN (Program Identification Number – 8 digits) to and by October 30th for consideration. We will notify participants by November 8th.


In an era of climate change, intensive land and water development, and stark inequalities in water access and rights, critical geographic analyses of water policy are essential for understanding the possibilities and limitations of policy as a mechanism for fostering just and sustainable water futures. The last thirty years have seen significant reform and experimentation with water policies across the globe, from watershed planning to effects-based management, ecosystem services, the human right to water, and rights of the river (Burchi 2012, 2019). However, the outcomes of these reforms have often been limited by institutional and political constraints to reflect, rather than contest, existing power geometries (Jepson 2012, Green et al. 2013, Brisbois and de Loë 2017). Debates over effective policy approaches thus continue, as well as what legal, governance, and implementation frameworks will promote desired policy outcomes (Moore et al. 2014, Grafton et al. 2019).

Critical geographical scholarship can enrich these debates by opening up conceptualisations of policy to account for the broad range of actions, decisions, norms, and forums that constitute water policy and realise its effects. Policies per se can and do matter, but how they matter must be analysed rather than merely assumed (Fischer 2003, Cleaver 2012, Schweizer 2015). Critical geographic scholarship has sought to unpack the politics of policies, policy making, and policy implementation to identify the myriad ways in which water policies produce effects in and on the world (Doyle et al. 2013, Cantor 2017, Rawson and Mansfield 2018, Wilson et al. 2019). In addition to examining the formal content and distributive implications of policies, attention is drawn to the contingent and relational agency of bureaucratic, civil society, Indigenous, scientific, and non-human actors in making water policy work (Lippert, Krause and Hartmann 2015, Palmer and Owens 2015, Cantor and Emel 2018). Critical geographies of water policy thus enable interrogation of what policy can and cannot do through analysis of the actors, networks, power relations, and material and discursive resources involved (see Bartel et al. 2018).


Bartel, R., L. Noble, J. A. Williams & H. Stephen. 2018. Water policy, imagination and innovation: interdisciplinary approaches. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Brisbois, M. C. & R. C. de Loë (2017) Natural resource industry involvement in collaboration for water governance: influence on processes and outcomes in Canada. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 60, 883-900.

Burchi, S. (2012) A comparative review of contemporary water resources legislation: trends, developments and an agenda for reform. Water International, 37, 613-627.

--- (2019) The future of domestic water law: trends and developments revisited, and where reform is headed. Water International, 1-20.

Cantor, A. (2017) Material, political, and biopolitical dimensions of 'waste' in California water law. Antipode, 49, 1204-1222.

Cantor, A. & J. Emel (2018) New water regimes: an editorial. Resources, 7, 25.

Cleaver, F. 2012. Development through bricolage: rethinking institutions for natural resource management. London: Routledge.

Doyle, M. W., R. Lave, M. M. Robertson & J. Ferguson (2013) River federalism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103, 290-298.

Fischer, F. 2003. Reframing public policy: discursive politics and deliberative practices. Oxford University Press.

Grafton, R. Q., D. Garrick, A. Manero & T. N. Do (2019) The water governance reform framework: overview and applications to Australia, Mexico, Tanzania, U.S.A and Vietnam. Water, 11, 137.

Green, O. O., A. S. Garmestani, H. F. M. W. van Rijswick & A. M. Keessen (2013) EU water governance: striking the right balance between regulatory flexibility and enforcement? Ecology and Society, 18.

Jepson, W. (2012) Claiming space, claiming water: contested legal geographies of water in South Texas. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 102, 614-631.

Lippert, I., F. Krause & N. K. Hartmann (2015) Environmental management as situated practice. Geoforum, 66, 107-114.

Moore, M. L., S. von der Porten, R. Plummer, O. Brandes & J. Baird (2014) Water policy reform and innovation: a systematic review. Environmental Science and Policy, 38, 263-271.

Palmer, J. & S. Owens (2015) Indirect land-use change and biofuels: the contribution of assemblage theory to place-specific environmental governance. Environmental Science & Policy, 53, 18-26.

Rawson, A. & B. Mansfield (2018) Producing juridical knowledge: “Rights of Nature” or the naturalization of rights? Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1, 99-119.

Schweizer, R. (2015) Law Activation Strategies (LAS) in environmental policymaking: a social mechanism for re-politicization? European Policy Analysis, 1, 132-154.

Wilson, N. J., L. M. Harris, J. Nelson & S. H. Shah (2019) Re-theorizing politics in water governance. Water, 11, 1470.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Johann Strube*, Pennsylvania State University, Decolonization or recolonization? The case of trans-boundary water governance in the Rainy Lake of the Woods watershed and its impact on wild rice 15 10:15 AM
Presenter Suzanne Dallman*, California State University - Long Beach, Los Angeles in the Owens Valley 15 10:30 AM
Presenter Rebecca Peters*, University of Oxford, Enforcement or evasion? Institutions and the political economy of pollution regulation in the Greater Dhaka Watershed 15 10:45 AM
Presenter Maria Paula Escobar Tello*, , Fire and Water: Multi-level legal reforms in Colombian water policies – the negotiations of páramo water communities 15 11:00 AM
Presenter Marc Tadaki*, Cawthron Institute, The discretionary politics of water policy implementation in New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment 15 11:15 AM

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