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The spatial, political and human dimensions of water infrastructure

Like anybody who is sort of in-between an early-career-researcher (ECR) and a more seasoned, established scholar, I have spent the last few years thinking about where my research is taking me and exploring new topics and ideas. I have also gained access to different funding sources, something that of course has influenced my research trajectory. When I began my doctoral research, I was 100% sure that what I was interested in was cooperative behaviour. My Masters’ degree thesis is focused on strategic alliances between biotech firms and large pharmaceutical companies. As my PhD dissertation work progressed, I learned about voluntary approaches to environmental policy instruments, which was also based on cooperation. Lately, I have been doing on water conflict, transboundary water governance, water privatization and bottled water. All of this, of course, in addition to my already-known research programme on wastewater and sanitation governance.

I have been considering what to call my current research programme. With the exception of my project on informal waste recyclers, a large portion of my scholarship is focused on water infrastructure. I am interested in access to water, privatization of municipal water supply, polycentric governance and cross-scalar dynamics. And of course, sanitation ties into this work. So I’ve considered the possibility of calling (at least for now) my research programme, “the spatial, political and human dimensions of water infrastructure“.

In opening my research trajectory to the study of spatial dimensions, I am bringing my interdisciplinary training together. I am trained as a political scientist, and a human geographer. Thus, I am interested in the politics of water infrastructure, across multiple scales. However, as any interdisciplinary researcher can tell you, I am also interested in the human dimensions (cognitive, social, anthropological) of water infrastructure. I want to understand individual behaviour, and also collective behaviour.

Will I continue to favor neoinstitutional theories in my work? Of course. I am puzzled by the formation of rules and norms. I am fascinated by the ways in which individuals react to institutional complexity. I don’t reject any other theoretical or analytical framework. I can approach problems from multiple perspectives, and that is what makes my research so interesting.

Will I continue to study transnational environmental movements? Of course, too. Activists are part of the civil society-government-industry triad, and as such, their behaviour is definitely something I am intrigued by. I am, as well, a comparativist. So yes, I will continue to explore environmental policy-making in Canada, the US and Mexico. Having a more defined research programme doesn’t preclude me from doing other kind of stuff.

Will I continue to do sanitation, even if I now do some work on climate politics? Of course, without a question. Sanitation was, and continues to be my first and foremost interest. The size of the problem and the imperious necessity of solution are two very strong drivers. 2.1 billion people lack proper sanitation and 950 million continue to practice open defecation because they lack the dignity of a toilet. I don’t plan on giving up the opportunity to help increase access, narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and try my hardest at eliminating inequalities.

I’m just a bit more focused in my research work now, I think.

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Posted in academia, environmental policy, governance, research, sanitation, waste, wastewater.

One Response

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  1. oscar salvatore says

    Este paper acaba de salir y bastante bueno, ya deseo leer los tuyos sobre como ves tu este tema pero desde una perspectiva más geográfica.

    Tortajada, C., 2014, Water infrastructure as an essential element for human development, International Journal of Water Resources Development


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