Key Research Interests and Expertise

My research explores how power relations produce and reproduce socio-ecological change in the global South with implications for the lives, livelihoods, landscapes and identities of low-income and/or marginalised social groups. I’m interested in both the material and discursive dimensions of these dynamics, especially as they relate to processes and discourses of development, as well as how they operate over different spatial and temporal scales.

Much of this work has been pursued through a focus on water management and governance. An important aspect of my work has been to reposition technical approaches to water issues as inherently political, and to elucidate the politics and power relations bound up in patterns of water allocation and use, water infrastructure and technologies, water governance frameworks and debates over water resources and issues.

My work currently comprises three principal themes:

First, I have critically examined the application of ‘neoliberal’ strategies to water management and its implications for low-income groups and local ecologies. I have analysed urban water privatisation in the global South (with Gordon McGranahan from IDS), water rights markets in Chile, and payments for watershed services schemes in the Andean region. I have argued that these market-based approaches are promoted on the basis of more efficient resource management and benefits to the poor, yet in practice it is the poorest and most marginalised water users who are disadvantaged by these policies.  Work in this field continues primarily in relation to Chile's Water Code and its outcomes for water availability and distribution among fresh fruit producers in the La Ligua river basin.

My research on water rights in the context of the avocado production in Chile has been featured by DanWatch, and Vogue magazine.

Second, I am interested in critical approaches to environmental knowledge that draw on debates around social nature from political ecology and science studies. My entry into this area has been through an analysis of the politics of hydrology and its application. I have extended this work to engage in developing, with Jamie Linton (Université de Limoges), the concept of the ‘hydrosocial cycle’ to think about how water embeds and reflects power relations, and how water and society shape and reshape each other over space and time. I have also worked on a critique of the society-nature dualism inherent within the dominant conceptualisation of ecosystem services, in collaboration with Margreet Zwarteveen (UNESCO-IHE).  Current work continues theorisation and application of the hydrosocial cycle, with Jamie Linton and Alex Loftus (King's College London), and a critical and relational approach to water security with Wendy Jepson (Texas A&M University) and others. 

Third, I have examined the implications of the increased demand for water for the expanding mining industry in the Andean region, focusing on the case of Peru. In Peru, meeting growing demand for water for mining is a key challenge and source of conflict, because natural supplies are limited, most existing resources are in use, and some local (Quechua and Aymara) people are strongly opposed to the use of water for mining. However, rather than regarding water solely as a resource that is an input to, or impacted by, mining, I have examined how the social relations of control over water in relation to mineral extraction are reshaping waterscapes in Peru, and in the Andean highlands in particular. Based on qualitative work in Lima and the arid far south of Peru, where several large copper mines are operating, starting production, or being planned, I have analysed how mining influences water (re)allocation and basin transfers, policy and governance arrangements, the construction of large infrastructure, and discourses about water use and management, but also the ways in which water has shaped debates and practices around mining in the country.

In 2011, my research on water and mining in the Andes was featured in an edition of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, entitled ‘Gold of the Conquistadors’.

I served as Director of the UEA Water Security Research Centre from 2014 to 2017.

Link to my Google Scholar profile.

External research funding

UK Academies - FAPESP Visting Researcher Fellowship, Securing Water for São Paulo: Analyzing the Dynamics of Water Infrastructure and Governance in the Macrometropolis, Co-Investigator, Universidade de São Paulo, 2019.

British Council FAPESP Researcher Links Workshop, Urban Water Security in Brazil: From Infrastructure to Social Action, Co-PI, UEA, 2019. 

British Council Newton-Paulet Workshop Grant, Paleoclimate, Water Use and Environmental Phenomena in Ancient Peru and Their Contemporary Impacts, Co-Investigator, UEA, 2018-19.

British Academy Newton Fund Mobility Grant, Securing Water for Megacities: An Analysis of Water Governance and Scarcity in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, Co-Investigator, Universidade Federal do ABC, 2015-17.

IDRC/DFID, Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia, Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions, Co-Investigator, University of Cape Town, 2014-18.

NWO/DFID, Collaboration or Conflict in Management of Climate Change, Hydropower Development in the Context of Climate Change: Exploring Conflicts and Fostering Collaboration across Scales and Boundaries in the Eastern Himalayas, Co-Investigator, Wageningen University, 2014-18.

NWO/DFID, Collaboration or Conflict in Management of Climate Change Programme, Proposal development workshop grant, Scalar Politics and Wicked Problems: How Climate Change Mediates Conflicts and Solidarities around Hydropower, Water and Development in the Eastern Himalayas, Co-Investigator, Wageningen University, 2012-13.

ESRC First Grant, The Political Ecology of Extractive Industries and Changing Waterscapes in the Andes, Principal Investigator, The Open University / University of Reading, 2010-12.

ESRC/NERC/DFID Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme, Partnership and Project Development Grant, Understanding and Managing Watershed Services in Andean and Amazonian Catchments, Lead Principal Investigator, The Open University and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2010-11.

ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Political Ecology of Water and Uneven Development in Latin America, University of Manchester, 2006.

ESRC/NERC PhD studentship, The Political Ecology of Water Privatisation in Latin America: Water Rights Markets in Chile, University of Oxford, 2001-2004. 

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