Academic journal article Global Governance

River Basin Organizations in the Global Water Discourse: An Exploration of Agency and Strategy

Academic journal article Global Governance

River Basin Organizations in the Global Water Discourse: An Exploration of Agency and Strategy

Article excerpt

This article describes the role of transnational policy entrepreneurs in producing and maintaining the global discourse of river basin organizations--a key element of global water governance. It takes an agency approach and draws on three streams of literature--discourse analysis, political ecology, and political economy--to derive strategies that transnational actors may use to advance discourse. To illustrate agency and strategies, it draws from a wide variety in types of RBOs across the globe. It finds that global knowledge networks exhibit the most expansive reach, serving as the oil in the machine of the global RBO discourse. This finding raises important questions around networks in the broader global water governance discourse as well as compelling questions related to governance. KEYWORDS: river basin organizations, discourse, scale, politics, agency, transnational policy entrepreneurs, political ecology, political economy, networks.

REFLECTING BROADER TRENDS IN GLOBAL GOVERNANCE AWAY FROM A SYSTEM of decisionmaking and collective action dominated by a few key intergovernmental institutions, global water governance may be seen as increasingly diffuse, heterogeneous, fragmented, and unpredictable. (1) Representing more of a multilevel arrangement that includes local, national, and basin levels, global water governance entails not only governments but also international nongovernmental organizations (ING0s), global knowledge networks, and private sector actors who formulate and implement policy and frame discourse at multiple and interrelated levels. (2) Through the development of knowledge, development assistance projects, global water meetings, and publications, these transnational actors shape global water discourse and governance.

Central to global water governance are river basin organizations (RBOs) that are organized at the basin level to serve as forums to link various governance levels, including the local, national, and global. RBOs are on the rise globally today, increasingly promoted by transnational policy actors supporting good governance concepts in developing countries. (3) In the past two decades, both domestic and international RBOs have been established in virtually every region of the world. (4) As primary mechanisms for water governance, RBOs provide forums for critical water management issues, including conflicts around water quantity and quality as well as the use of water for human and environmental needs. (5)

Despite the rise of RBOs and their importance to governance, the trajectory that this concept has traveled to reach its position of global prominence and the role of transnational policy actors in advancing and maintaining RBOs is relatively unknown. (6) We address this gap by examining transnational policy entrepreneurs and their strategies in the rise of the modern discourse around RBOs. We see discourse as "an ensemble of ideas, concepts and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena, and which is reproduced through an identifiable set of practices." (7) Unraveling the working of a discourse helps us to explore the debate, uncover which and whose agendas are being served, and ultimately offer pathways for strategic positioning of actors in the debates on water governance.

Although there is rich literature on discourse theory and its application to the environment, no unified analytical framework exists for examination of the path through which discourses become dominant. (8) An agency approach, representing the ability to exercise authority and influence policy change, (9) suggests explicit attention to policy actors as change agents and their strategies as the means to instigate or block the RBO discourse. Through an integration of several literatures, we identify particular strategies of transnational actors in water governance and apply this typology to illustrate how different actors make use of these strategies. …

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