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On the divergence of water cooperation and water conflict bodies of scholarship

For the past couple of decades, I have been a scholar of cooperative behavior. I have studied how cooperation among agents occurs, within a broad variety of contexts. I have demonstrated that environmental activists build strategic relationships and form transnational coalitions to put pressure on nation states (Pacheco-Vega 2005a, b, Pacheco-Vega, Weibust and Fox 2010). I have also shown how lack of cooperation among state, federal and municipal governments hinders wastewater governance and limits the effectiveness of state-wide and basin-wide sanitation policies (Pacheco-Vega 2011, 2012, forthcoming). I have also shown how cities where clusters emerge naturally are more resilient to external shocks than cities that host “forced” industrial districts (Pacheco-Vega 2008, Pacheco and Dowlatabadi 2003, 2005, 2007, Pacheco-Vega forthcoming). I have become known for being a scholar of cooperation.

OECD Policy Dialogue on Water in Mexico

This year, by happen stance (I was researching a few Mexican cities’ urban water systems for a couple of comparative papers I’m presenting at Association of American Geographers and at Association of Borderland Studies) and began to find literature on water conflict. The strangest thing is that I have come to find that the bodies of literature are very, very different. As I mentioned on Twitter:

For example, if you want to learn how individuals self-organize to govern water as a common pool resource you need nothing more than look at the Elinor Ostrom (and collaborators’) bodies of work. Cooperation occurs when there are clear resource-sharing rules, among a number of other factors. However, if you want to understand conflict and design mechanisms to solve said conflict, you can look at the work of Larry Susskind, Barbara Gray, Heidi and Guy Burgess.

I’m fascinated by this apparent divergence, particularly because as I said, I have always seen myself as someone who seeks to understand patterns of cooperative behavior. One would think that just “flipping the coin on knowledge” would enable us to understand mechanisms of conflict resolution in disputes for water resources. But it doesn’t work in that exact way. 2013 will be a watershed year (yes, pun intended) for me, as it will be the year when I delve more into water conflict, more specifically intractable water conflict (e.g. conflicts that reach stalemates, are prolonged and appear seemingly non-solvable).

Chefs Across The Water in Salt Spring Island

I am currently working on a book project proposal on this very topic (following the work of Lewicki, Gray and Elliott), and specifically examining empirical case studies within Mexico. If you are thinking of working in this area for your Masters/PhD, feel free to contact me. I have already undertaken a substantive literature review and have submitted a book chapter and a journal manuscript on the topic for peer review.

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Posted in water governance, water policy, World Water Day.

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. On the evolution of my thinking and research trajectory – Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD linked to this post on May 17, 2013

    […] more about water conflicts (and working on water conflict in Mexico at the sub-national scale). I’m fascinated by the chasm between water cooperation and water conflict bodies of work. And I’m delighted to be delving more into the solid waste governance field (one that I […]

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