Margreet Zwarteveen’s event: ‘Caring matters in knowing water

Thursday 23 June (14:00 – 19:00)

This conference engages with the transformations needed to deal with – adapt to, learn to live with, help solve, remedy or prevent – problems caused by climate change, environmental degradation and resource pressure as they become manifest in/through water. It hinges on the insight generated by critical social scientists (prominently including but not limited to political ecologists) that growing pressures on the environment – and the resulting pollutions, scarcities, and depletions – are not natural processes but the outcome of specific histories and practices of ‘development’. This is a ‘development’ that is highly uneven, and premised on systematically undervaluing both nature and labour. Bringing about or supporting sustainable and just water futures entails critically questioning such forms of development, as well as the science and technologies that underpin them or help make them possible. It is equally important to devise ways – methods, tools, institutions, technologies – to think and do water in better, perhaps more caring, ways.

The two UNESCO centres, the IHE Delft Institute for Water education and the International Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Water Systems Dynamics (ICIREWARD) in Montpellier, are unique in bringing together scholars and students from a range of disciplines and from many parts of the world around contemporary sustainability challenges in water, often in relation to processes of development in the so-called majority world. The event will help create stronger links between these two UNESCO centres, building channels for mutual intellectual inspiration and cross-fertilization and helping create the inter- or transdisciplinary research and action alliances.

Programme and speakers [en rouge – menu déroulant ?]

Moderation: Jeltsje Kemerink-Seyoum, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, The Netherlands

14:00 – 14:05 Opening and welcome

Marcel Kuper, Director, Joint Research Unit ‘Water Management, Actors, Territories’ (UMR G-EAU), France

14:05 – 14:30 Making the case for water transformations

Seema Kulkarni, Senior Researcher, Society for Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM), India

Nila Ardhiani, Director, AMRTA Institute for Water Literacy, Indonesia

Amalinda Savirani, Head of S3 political science program, Department of Politics and Government, Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

14:30 – 14:50             Why caring matters in water

Margreet Zwarteveen, Professor of Water Governance, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands & MAK’IT FIAS Fellow 2021-2022 (JRU ‘G-EAU’), France

14:50 – 15:10             Transforming water, transforming society

Lyla Mehta, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK

15:10 – 15:30             Coffee break

15:30 – 16:30 Transforming Waters

Three short provocations by PhD scholars from the WEGO (Wellbeing, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity) and NEWAVE ITN networks, the IHE-Delft Institute for Water Education & The University of Sheffield

Panel discussion:

Frances Cleaver, Professor of Political Ecology, Lancaster University, UK

Marcel Kuper, Director, Joint Research Unit ‘Water Management, Actors, Territories’ (UMR G-EAU), France

Lyla Mehta, Professorial Fellow, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK

Pieter van der Zaag, Professor Water Resources Management, IHE Delft Institute for Water Education & Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands

16:30 – 16:50             Joint declaration by the two UNESCO Centers (tbc)

Eric Servat, Director, UNESCO International Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Water Systems Dynamics (ICIREWARD), Montpellier, France (video)

Eddy Moors, Rector, UNESCO-IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, The Netherlands

16:50 – 17:00             Closing remarks

Patrick Caron, Director, MAK’IT

17:00 – 19:00 Reception

This public conference will be preceded by 2 days of interactive workshops (21-22 June) that will bring together, upon invitation, researchers, activists and teachers from the two UNESCO interdisciplinary water centres of IHE-Delft and Montpellier, and two international training networks – WEGO (Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity) and NEWAVE (New Water Governance) -, who are interested and motivated to critically re-visit ‘knowledge-as-usual’ in support of thinking and doing water differently.

The young researchers from the two international training networks are an important part of a new generation of critical water scholars. They currently do a PhD in which the question of how to bring about and support transformations to water sustainability is central.  Bringing the two networks together will create opportunities for these young scholars to meet, and allow them to learn from as well as challenge more experienced water researchers.

They will work together around three overlapping themes:

  • Critically transforming

Discussing ways to ‘decolonize’ water, this workshop discusses what it takes – i.e. the activism, protests, critical engagement – to manage and govern water in more sustainable and just ways. The action-research projects from the NEWAVE and WEGO scholars will figure as important examples to think with.

  • Critically modelling

Models and modelling play an ever more important role in attempts to regulate, account for, manage and govern water. Yet, assumptions that inform modelling efforts and outcomes – about societal goals with water, or about the values of water – are not always very explicit, nor is it always clear that models support or make visible some futures but not others. This workshop explores how modellers and models can become more politically astute, and be mobilized in support of transformations to sustainability.


  • Critically caring

Expanding and complementing dominant theorizations of water governance as control, this workshop foregrounds the caring work that governance also entails. After all, full water control is seldom (if ever) achieved, both because water is capricious, but also because of how governing water is intrinsically complex. Can highlighting water governance as care open up new – more sustainable, just, modest – ways to think and do water?