“Liquid Power”: An interview with Erik Swyngedouw

Erik Swyngedouw on Liquid Power: “I mobilise H2O and Spain’s tumultuous socio-economic and politico-cultural transformations during the 20th century as a heuristic device. It is used as a methodological entry, and provides narrative anchors, for excavating the society-nature imbroglio in a way that transcends the binary conceptualisation of the nature-society relationship that has dominated (and plagued) much of environmental theory and practice during the 20th century. Moreover, the book demonstrates how socio-physical transformations unfold through myriad of interrelated social power relations and dynamics.”

ENTITLE blog - a collaborative writing project on Political Ecology

Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester, on his new book, research experiences in Spain, Spanish literary inspirations and next research project.

9780262029032 The cover of Erik Swyngedouw’s new book, Liquid Power: Contested Hydro-Modernities in Twentieth Century Spain. Source: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/liquid-power

For most (urban) political ecologists, Erik Swyngedouw needs little introduction. Erik is a prolific writer and inspiring intellectual whose research over the past decades has focused on geographical political economy,  the governance, politics and economics of water resources and, more recently, interrogating the political. Two decades of research in Spain, from which many articles were written including an historical reading of the production of the Spanish waterscape and the role of desalinisation as a hydro-social fix, have culminated in Erik’s new book Liquid Power published by MIT Press. We recently asked Erik a few questions about his new publication, his research experiences in Spain, his Spanish…

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Interesting links: First half of 2014 (1) – Climate change, water and evidence

The year has sped by, and I have not been able to get to the blog 😦 But I have a week of recess before the new teaching term starts, so thought I should update the blog with the interesting links and articles I have been bookmarking during the first half of the year. So here goes the first set of links related to climate change, water, and evidence. In a second post related to the interesting sources I found during the first half of 2014, I will post about the ontological turn in anthropology and sources related to the Anthropocene.

Weather and climate change

The last two of 5th assessment reports of the IPPC was released in the first half of 2014, namely Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and Mitigation of climate change.

I am enrolled for the MOOC offered by UC San Diego on Climate change in four dimensions (#climatechange4D). The short description of the course is that it “views climate change from a variety of perspectives at the intersection of the natural sciences, technology, and the social sciences and humanities” – it runs from 1 July until 1 September.

The anthropologists Ben Orlove chats about why he studies El Nino (video) [read his co-published article on El Nino’s impacts on water, agriculture and health], and Gavin Schmidt did a TED talk on the emergent patterns of climate change (video).

The journal Environment and Urbanization has made a list (and made free access) all the articles published in the journal on cities and climate change since 2007. And the ICLEI at the Cambridge University did a great job of summarising the key findings of the IPPC Fifth Assessment Report as it relates climate change and cities.

The CODESRIA Bulletin 1 of 2014 has an article by James Murombedzi about accumulation by dispossession: Climate change & natural resource management in Africa (see pages 38-40). Also watch this short film produced at the first southern African adaptation colloquium.

Although published a while ago (in 2006 in Anthropology in Action), the article by Mariella Marzano about changes in the weather: A Sri Lankan village case study does seem useful to the research project on this blog. The abstract states: “As the impacts of climate change are expected to increase, there is growing concern in development contexts over how best to assist the poor and vulnerable to adapt to such changes whilst ensuring environmental and livelihood security. Climate variability is a persistent and progressively more worrying feature in the everyday lives of individuals and communities in rural areas around the world, and there is a pressing need for comprehensive knowledge of the complex relationships between humans, and between them and their environment. Thus there is a growing movement towards bridging the gap between top-down decision-making and more grassroots approaches that encompass local knowledge and experiences. Drawing upon fieldwork in Sri Lanka, this article examines the potential of taking an indigenous knowledge research (IKR) approach to understanding local adaptation to climate change, specifically how local people are adapting their livelihood strategies to what they perceive to be increasing variability in weather patterns. It also explores the prospect of indigenous knowledge networks as vehicles for rapidly sharing information and building links between policy making and local reality.”

For a laugh (on a serious matter), watch John Oliver on Tonight talking about the climate change debate in the US (video).


Watch this talk by Cynthia Barnett on a water ethic for America (video), and don’t miss one of my favourite water researchers, Erik Swyngedouw, talking about Urban water: Urban environmental justice or political ecology?  There is also a short film about the threats of 12 mega-dams to the people and rainforest of Sarawak in Malaysia, called Damming our future (video).

Cameron Harrington published an article in the Canadian Foreign Policy Journal – Toward a critical water security: Hydrosolidarity and emancipation. The abstract sounds enticing: “Traditional approaches to water security presume that water will be a primary vehicle that will drive conflict in the future, and may in fact lead to war between states or armed intra-state groups. This article begins by pointing out the limitations of the connections between water scarcity and traditional security and examines the role of emancipation as an aim for the study and practice of water security. It aims to uncover the complex relationships individuals and political communities have with scarce water sources; relationships that defy simple classification as competitive and protectionist, as traditional security views might have us believe. An individual’s connection with water is characterised by a wide and shifting confluence of personal and social needs and identities. Thus, this article seeks to reveal the wide range of approaches used by individuals and political communities to manage their relationships with water, and more broadly, with each other. In particular, the concept of “hydrosolidarity” is studied as a potential emancipatory alternative to hostility, strategy, and conflict in water relations.”

Evidence and systematic reviews

Noah Feldman talks about the Nature of evidence (video), Yves Gingras talks about Transformations in the relations between science, policy and citizens (video), and Stathis Psillos discusses From the bankruptcy of science to the death of evidence.

Recently Jon Turney wrote a post about whether conversation can turn research into action, and Duncan Green asks whether politics and evidence are compatible. And on the BBC website you’ll find an article highlighting the difference between correlation and causation – it shows the spurious correlation between consumption of margarine and divorce rates in Maine, and shows why we cannot claim that eating margarine will cause your marriage to fail.

Be sure to follow the blog of Kirsty Newman, the head of DFID’s Evidence into Action team – all her posting will have you thinking and questioning. I loved these two on bringing research rigour and context together and where evidence fits in between top-down and bottom-up development approaches. Sarah Morton blogs about her talk in Canada on evidence-based service delivery and development – she addresses three issues: what do we mean by research-utilisation; what is evidence for service and practice; and key ways of improving research use.

The annual conference of the Campbell Collaboration took place in June in Belfast. Whilst I did not attend, I had colleagues attending and presenting, and I tried to keep abreast by following the tweets from #c2Belfast. One of the outcomes is that the Campbell Collaboration has adopted MECIR standards as guidance for its systematic reviews.

My colleagues at the Centre for Anthropological Research (CfAR) at the University of Johannesburg launched UJ-BCURE – see the video of the launch. BCURE  is a DFID-funded project to build capacity to use research evidence.

The website of the Africa Evidence Network was launched recently – be sure to visit regularly, join as a member, and attend the November colloquium meeting of this network in Johannesburg.

My colleagues Laurenz Langer and Ruth Stewart of the CfAR have an article out in Journal of Development Effectiveness – What have we learned from the application of systematic review methodology in international development – a thematic overview. Ruth’s article, Changing the world one systematic review at a time, also appeared in Development Southern Africa.

Birte Snilstveit and colleagues published a working paper with the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, called Evidence gap maps: A tool for promoting evidence-informed policy and prioritising future research. The abstracts reads: “Evidence-gap maps present a new addition to the tools available to support evidence-informed policy making. Evidence-gap maps are thematic evidence collections covering a range of issues such as maternal health, HIV/AIDS, and agriculture. They present a visual overview of existing systematic reviews or impact evaluations in a sector or subsector, schematically representing the types of interventions evaluated and outcomes reported. Gap maps enable policy makers and practitioners to explore the findings and quality of the existing evidence and facilitate informed judgment and evidence-based decision making in international development policy and practice. The gap map also identifies key ‘gaps’ where little or no evidence from impact evaluations and systematic reviews is available and where future research should be focused. Thus, gap maps can be a useful tool for developing a strategic approach to building the evidence base in a particular sector. This paper provides an introduction to evidence-gap maps, outlines the gap-map methodology, and presents some examples.”

Elaine Barnett-Page and James Thomas wrote an article in 2009 (Methods for the synthesis of qualitative research: A critical review) in BMC Medical Research Methodology – useful.

Thomas Winderl wrote a guest post on the blog Better Evaluation on innovation in development evaluation.

I love this tweet by Irene Guijt (on 13 March) about evidence!

CEGSS from evidence to convince authorities to evidence to mobilise citizens.

My second blog post on interesting sources I found in the first half of 2014 will follow – it will contain links re the ontological turn in anthropology and sources related to the Anthropocene.