Political Ecology across Spaces, Scales, and Social Groups

By Susan Paulson; Lisa L. Gezon | Go to book overview

4
Whose Water?
Political Ecology of Water Reform in Zimbabwe

ANNE FERGUSON AND BILL DERMAN

At the September 2002 World Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, water was the center of contestation and debate. It was variously characterized as a scarce resource, an economic good, a human right, a matter of national and international security, and an environmental right. In this chapter, we examine the process of water reform underway in Zimbabwe. The complex interplay of environmental, economic, social, and rights-based discourses and practices related to this essential natural resource provides a point from which to consider current debates surrounding how the political is conceptualized in political ecology. We draw on Alberto Arce and Norman Long’s (2000) concept of counter-development as a way of illustrating how local understandings are used to comprehend and reshape global discourses and how, in turn and less frequently, the local influences global discourses.


Political Ecology: Research Issues and Methods

The study was an interdisciplinary, collaborative, and comparative project involving faculty and graduate students at the Center for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe and ourselves at Michigan State University.1 Given the interdisciplinary nature of the research, political ecology offered a shared analytical framework that encompassed the issues and methods familiar to the anthropologists and resource economists engaged in the study. Researchers agreed on the following conceptual framework derived from the works of Piers Blaikie (1996, 1999), Blaikie and Harold Brookfield (1987), Philip Stott and Sian Sullivan (2000) and other political ecologists:

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