Global Development Studies Professor Anja Nygren has published a new article in World Development entitled “Water and power, water’s power: State-making and socionature shaping volatile rivers and riverine people in Mexico”. The article is open access and can be read here.
Water-related disasters have become more unpredictable amidst human-induced climatic and hydroecological changes, with profound effects on people inhabiting fragile river basins. In this article, I analyse drastic waterscape transformations and people’s differentiated exposure to water-related vulnerabilities in the Grijalva River lower basin, southeastern Mexico, focusing on how state authority is reinforced through waterscape alterations and how altered waterscapes shape state-making and scalar politics. Examining interlinkages between 1) state-making and governance; 2) resource-making and politics of scale; and 3) hazard-making and the dynamics of socionature, the article contributes to scholarly and development practice discussions on environmental vulnerability. I argue that the goals of consolidating state power and promoting development through massive waterscape changes and resource extractions have provoked hazards that are difficult to control, resulting in differentiated distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. Drawing on archival research, documentary analysis, thematic interviews, and ethnographic fieldwork, the study illustrates the overlapping and cumulative effects of state-making, politics of scale, and the dynamics of socionature on socially differentiated vulnerability. Although the forms of governance shift over time, statecraft as a mode of consolidating state authority and controlling lower-basin environments and residents persists. The government prevents social mobilisation through political persuasion and pressure, and disciplines residents to adapt to altered waterscapes, while allowing few changes in prevalent power structures. Simultaneously, the study demonstrates that water cannot be controlled by political rules and requisites, while local residents reinterpret dominant ways of governing through claim-making, negotiation, everyday resistance, and situational improvisation, albeit within unequal power relations. The study enhances understanding of water-related vulnerabilities resulting from recurrent, yet temporally remoulded agendas of state-making combined with socially differentiating politics of scaling and the dynamics of socionature, which altogether reformulate human-nonhuman interactions and make local smallholders and peri-urban poor increasingly vulnerable to floods.