This paper by Peter Mollinga, University of Bonn reviews the boundary concepts that have emerged in interdisciplinary irrigation studies in South Asia, particularly India. The focus is concepts that capture the hybridity of irrigation systems as complex systems, and cross the boundaries of the natural and social sciences.
Concepts capturing the materialisation of rights, design-management relations and the social construction of technology, the notions of landesque capital and (the valuation of) ecosystem goods and services, and finally the broader issues of space-time relations and a cultural politics of water, are explored.
The paper takes the analysis forward by suggesting starting points for more comprehensive interdisciplinary social theory on irrigation. On the side of formal theory a focus on a combination the emerging concept of hydrosocial cycle with structure-agency theorisation as morphogenesis is proposed; on the side of substantive theory three avenues for investigation of the materiality of the social process of irrigation are proposed in the commodity form, a materialist institutionalism and the embodiment of agency.
It devotes considerable attention to the ontological premises that are useful for interdisciplinary analysis of water resources management. It concludes with listing five research activities that could lift the idiosyncratic focus on irrigation and South Asia of this paper to a more generic approach to the analysis of hybrid and contested water resources management -
- A geographically, historically and sub-sectorally broad-based review of each of the boundary concepts identified in sections two to five, and potential additional ones, and the structures and mechanisms they seek to capture, to systematically consolidate existing conceptual framings of the diverse ‘determinations’ operating in water resources management situations.
- To deploy the existing collection of boundary concepts in single, intensive case studies, to explore the complexity of internal relations in water resources management situations, and to develop theoretical capacity to capture the ‘concentration’ part of the determinations.
- Subsequently and in parallel, undertake systematic comparative analysis of the structurally diverse dynamics of water resources management situations.
- Develop the formal theoretical base of an interdisciplinary political sociology of water resources by elaborating the formal theorisation of structure-agency dynamics and water circulation (with a suggested focus on the concepts of hydrosocial cycle and morphogenesis).
- Develop substantive theorisation of the materiality of social change in water resource management by elaborating the suggested water-specific rethinking of the commodity form, of different varieties of materialist institutionalism, and of the embodiment of agency.
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