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Riverhood and river commons in Latin America and Europe

Prof. dr. Rutgerd Boelens, Wageningen University & CEDLA - University of Amsterdam

River systems are fundamental for social and natural well-being. Around the world, however, mega-damming, pollution and depletion are putting riverine complexes under great stress. Since ages, engineering of ideal societies by domesticating ‘wild water’ followed utopian imaginaries to control humans and nature at once, while omitting alternative understandings and side-lining local co-governance practices. In Europe, this has a long tradition: “God created the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands”. Spain’s century-old Política Hidráulica envisioned “recreating nature and humans, at once”. Both countries exported their technocratic paradigms to Latin America, but the pendulum may now swing back. Ecuador engrained ‘Rights of Nature’ constitutionally. In Colombia, rivers became subjects, not objects, of moral and legal rights. Increasingly, socio-nature commons fight for revitalizing rivers. European grassroots now seek to creatively translate these notions in their struggles, and partners in South and North join forces, building bottom-up, cross-cultural knowledge. Science and policies, however, lack the tools to engage with these new water justice movements. Through two new international Wageningen / CEDLA-UvA programs, we will study local and transnational “river commoning” languages, values, practices, and strategies. We will examine river complexes from four connected ontologies: River-as-ecosociety; River-as-territory; River-as-subject; and River-as-movement.

This lecture took place on 19 March 2021 as part of the CEDLA Lecture Series. 

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