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Prof. dr. Rutgerd Boelens

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Rutgerd Boelens is Professor 'Political Ecology of Water in Latin America' holding a part-time special chair with CEDLA and the University of Amsterdam (Fac. Humanities). He also works as Professor Water Governance and Social Justice at Wageningen University (Environmental Sciences Group, Water Resources Management), and is Visiting Professor at the Catholic University of Peru and the Central University of Ecuador. He directs the international Justicia Hídrica /Water Justice alliance, engaged with comparative research and training on water accumulation, conflict and civil society action. 


His research focuses on water rights, legal pluralism, cultural politics, social mobilization and political ecology, in Latin America and Europe. He worked as action-researcher on rural development in the Andean countries, and before founding Justicia Hídrica (www.justiciahidrica.or) he directed the international Water Law and Indigenous Rights alliance WALIR, and several large NUFFIC and NWO research programs on water governance and environmental justice in Latin America. Currently he also coordinates the intercontinental RIVERHOOD (ERC) and RIVER COMMONS programs ( The research networks include scholars, professionals, activists, and grassroots leaders working on ‘governmentality’ in hydrosocial territories and the politics of NRM reforms, intervention, water grabbing and social mobilization. These entwine social and natural sciences. Results are published, among others, in the book series Water & Society (Agua y Sociedad) for which he is the scientific editor, and which integrates several Latin American publishers (as IEP, Abyayala, CBC, Fondo Editorial PUCP).


Rutgerd Boelens graduated in environmental sciences (M.Sc) and social sciences (Ph.D., 2008) at Wageningen University, both cum laude. His PhD thesis The Rules of the Game and the Game of the Rules. Normalization and Resistance in Andean Water Control was awarded ‘Best PhD dissertation’ among Dutch university faculties working in the fields of International Development, over the years 2007-2008.

“RIVERHOOD. Living Rivers and the New Water Justice Movements: From Dominating Waterscapes to the Rights of Nature

It is a 5-years project that will study ‘riverhood’ and ‘translocal water justice movements’ in Europe and Latin America. This project will be coordinated from the Wageningen University (WUR) with an strong bridge to CEDLA-UvA. The proposal counted also with invaluable inputs from many of the CEDLA's research team. We are specially glad because the proposal’s evaluation was graded as ‘excellent’ and ‘exceptional’.

The project will start in Spring 2021. The project includes 4 fully financed PhDs and the means to develop, among other activities, ‘environmental justice labs’ in The Netherlands, Spain, Ecuador and Colombia, with a large number of grassroots, academic and policy-making partners. The total grant is 2 million euros.

Riverhood and River Commons are two CEDLA-WUR research programs involving 15 PhDs, 40 Master students, and grassroots, activist and academic partners

River Commons: action-research with partners in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Europe

Water Justice in Latin America: The Politics of Difference, Equality, and Indifference

Inaugural Lecture uitgesproken bij de aanvaarding van het ambt van bijzonder hoogleraar Political Ecology of Water in Latin America aan de Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen van de Universiteit van Amsterdam op donderdag 21 mei 2015 door Rutgerd Boelens:

My first encounter with modern hydraulic dreams in Latin America was with the huge Canal Nuevo, cutting straight through the homestead of my host parents, peasant farmers Santiago and Alberta Quintana. Nearly three decades ago, in the remote Peruvian highlands of Mollepata, the Quintana family shared their home with me, as they still do to this day. They taught me about the many Andean water worlds that are omitted from irrigation textbooks.

When government engineers and international consultants built Canal Nuevo, they entirely ignored these highland water cultures. Santiago explained: “Engineers designed it ... They started construction, cutting through farms without anyone’s permission. They began digging the canal intrusively, without paying any compensation for land or crops we lost. It made no sense to complain, because it was for development, for people’s progress.”

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