Call for papers: A (re)turn to infrastructure for water management

An interdisciplinary journal on water, politics and development

Water Alternatives

With a few obvious exceptions, including the construction of the worlds largest dam in China, water management around the world in the 1990s and 2000s seemed largely focused on the demand-side. In agriculture, mining, manufacturing, construction and the service industries, and from the world’s largest development institutions to the smallest non-government organisations, the emphasis was largely on increasing the efficiency with which water was used, so that consumption could be restrained and more water released for environmental purposes. This period was about “soft” demand management – pricing, water markets, awareness raising, precise scheduling and the like. More recently, however, we have begun to see a significant number of large inter-basin water transfer projects, massive dams, desalination plants, sea walls, tidal barriers and other constructions under development in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South America. Taken together, the resurgence of these types of concrete-heavy forms of water management suggest a turn back to the high-modernist reliance on big infrastructure as a strategy for addressing a range of water-related issues, including regional scarcity, sea-level rise, and flooding.

Using examples of these types of projects, the papers in this special issue will explore the questions of whether and why we are seeing a return to a 20th century water management paradigm centered on big infrastructure and, often, supply-side management principles, and what this (re)turn to big infrastructure tell us about the political-economic forces driving water management today. Accordingly, this special issue aims to use the history and background to a variety of specific projects in order to explore the following overarching questions:

  • To what extent are these new concrete-heavy capital-intensive projects a manifestation of the local politics in their particular places or a reflection of a change in the global approach to water management?
  • Do these different forms of concrete-heavy management reflect a common trend to water management through infrastructure or are they subject to different drivers?
  • What does the (re)turn to big infrastructure tell us about the political-economic forces driving water management today?
  • Why and to what extent are we seeing the (re)turn to big infrastructure projects for water management?
  • Does the (re)turn to big infrastructure projects signal a weakening of civil society and environmental movements? An overestimation of the potential of demand-management?

To this end, we invite both empirically grounded and theoretical reflections on these issues from those interested in exploring the role of infrastructure in water management. Papers may be grounded in a specific topic or based on a more general history of water management through infrastructure; they may concern a specific place or country/region, or actor, or be more general. Papers that describe the specifics of a particular infrastructure project will only be relevant to the Special Issue if they address in detail the policy debates around demand and supply-side options, and evidence the discourses, arguments, coalitions and webs of interests and power that support capital-intensive solutions. Potential topics to be addressed in submissions include, but are by no means limited to:

  • the constellation of drivers that forced / encouraged / suggested the shift from demand-management to new infrastructural forms of water management
  • the regional/cultural specificity and limitations of demand-side approaches
  • the role of development banks, financiers, and the corporate sector
  • the technopolitics of infrastructure
  • the relations between infrastructure and power

Time line

Launch of the call                                                         10 June

Deadline for submission of abstracts                        20 July

Notification of authors                                                  30 August

Draft papers                                                                   30 November

Final papers, after review                                            30 April

Publication                                                                     June 2017

Contact the Guest Editors

Britt Crow-Miller            

Michael Webber           

François Molle              

Or send your abstract to: