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Exploring Global Water Governance Discourses

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2010 27 Seiten

Politik - Klima- und Umweltpolitik



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Part: Concepts and Typologies
2.1 The Importance of Ideas, Paradigms and Discourses
2.1.1 On the Analysis of Discourses
2.1.2 Theories and Concepts: A Clarification of Perspective
2.2 Towards a Typology of Hydroparadigms in GWG
2.2.1 Global Water Governance: A Definition
2.2.2 Existing Typologies of Hydroparadigms in GWG Typologies of Goods Categorizing Hydroparadigms: A Literature Review
2.2.3 Dimensions of Hydroparadigms
2.2.4 A Derived Typology Proposal
2.2.5 Is there a Paradigm Shift?

3 Research Design: Refining the Approach

4 Empirical Part: Hydroparadigms Explored
4.1 Actors, Conferences and Structures in GWG
4.2 Document Selection and Classification
4.3 Results

5 Conclusions

6 References

6.1 Primary Sources

6.2 Secondary Sources


Table 1: Forms of Ideas

Table 2: Types of Goods

Table 3: Commons vs. Commodity

Table 4: Hydroparadigms Typology Graphic

Table 5: Document Classifications


We live on a blue planet, colored by the most essential resource for life: water. However, some 1.1 billion of the world's population have no access to safe drinking water and about 2.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation (Lenton et al. 2008: 248). Due to population growth and the increasing need of water by the economy, it is estimated that in the year 2025, there may be even 3 billion people suffering from lack of safe drinking water. But this „access crisis‟ is just one of many: water is also a crucial component in a wider range of problematic development issues such as sustainability, economic growth, agriculture and hunger, making it a not only vital, but also highly interrelated resource.1 It is, all in all, one of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century.

It is not a surprise, then, that politicians, scholars, NGOs, scientists, epistemic communities as well as journalists have all noted this problematic issue, consequently setting the water issue high on the global political (development) agenda.2 Moreover, on the international political level, Global Water Governance (GWG) actors and structures have evolved during the last two decades, including various institutions (e.g. UN Water), conferences (e.g. Rio 1992), reports (e.g. the Human Development Report 2006), and declarations (e.g. the UN Millennium Declaration). They have all contributed to intensive discourses on how to solve or at least mitigate the problem, driven by several different (and what perhaps can be called) Hydroparadigms.

As these paradigms and according programmatic ideas compete for the accepted problem defini- tion and policy consequences or governance proposals, first, the empirical and practical relev- ance of the water crisis entails the question what kind of ideas, paradigms and discourses exist to solve or ease the problem. Here, two fundamentally different approaches can be distinguished: Actors informed by an economic neoliberal approach suggest that privatization of water services is most effective, whereas others defend the notion that water is a common good - instead of an economic commodity - and, even more, a human right, mostly arguing for some form of publicly controlled water management. While the former is often considered to come from the Internation- al Financial Institutions, the latter view seems most popular for representatives of developing countries or NGOs and recently made headlines when the UN General Assembly declared water a human right. To put it bluntly, it is a matter of private vs. public or commodity vs. right.

Second, the theoretical relevance is logically more on the analytic and conceptual side, seeking an appropriate typology of Hydroparadigms in Global Water Governance (GWG) as well as an assessment as to which paradigm is leading. Here, we should dispose of the nebulous distinc- tions of adversary policy advocates mentioned just before and seek a clear and sharp theoretical categorization instead. While there are many different typological approaches, we can distinguish two proposed paradigm shifts: Defenders of Critical Theory posit a shift to neoliberal privatization policies or a general „neoliberalization of nature‟ (e.g. Goldman 2005), whereas others hold that the so-called „Integrated Water Resources Management‟ (IWRM), which includes various ele- ments from different approaches, is becoming the dominant policy philosophy (e.g. Gleick 2000). Hence, the investigation will focus on the following question: What Hydroparadigms exist and which dominate the discourses on GWG? These discourses entail fundamental problems: Who owns water? Is it a human right or an economic good? Who should manage water? And, most elementarily, how can we achieve sustainability and universal access? I argue that the actors in GWG are driven by various Hydroparadigms, which are central not only to problem definitions and policy proposals, but also for eventual regime formation. I propose a three-dimensional map of Hydroparadigms ideal types, each with their specific problem perception, values, norms, policy implications and varying concepts of sustainability.

So, my examination is motivated by the fact that the outcomes of GWG critically depend on how the water crisis is perceived and according problem definitions, leading to concrete programs, are disputed. It must be noted, however, that I only intend to investigate Hydroparadigms on an idea- tional level, excluding normatively colored assessments of them. Basis for the theoretical ap- proach is a typology derived by a qualitative content analysis of the relevant political science lite- rature on GWG. It is in some sense a discourse analysis of the scientific literature. Additionally, by keeping an eye on primary sources of GWG, the typology is also inspired by empirical ele- ments, without questioning the basically deductive approach or determining the results, but add- ing an iterative moment.

Furthermore, I have decided to empirically focus only on UN actors (and documents), because they are the pace-setters for international action. Or put differently, since it is in the interest of the totality of humankind that water be managed sensibly, it is the responsibility of the global level to set the direction. Additionally, this limits the analysis to a manageable scope. Nonetheless, I do not suggest that a dominating Hydroparadigm determines the concrete action in developing countries, but rather accounts for the overall trend in the most publicly visible global political arena, the UN. Methodically, I will adopt a pragmatic version of discourse analysis as a special kind of textanalysis including the context of what is stated.

In order to answer these questions, first, the perspectives of discourse analysis and some analyt- ical concepts must be both clarified and modified to suit my particular endeavor, taking a certain theoretical position. Second, GWG is defined and existing typologies of Hydroparadigms are dis- cussed in a literature review, on which my own typology is based. Third, the research design is briefly outlined. In the empirical part, the relevant actors of GWG and their roles are made clear (drawing from existing literature) as a background for the analysis. Finally, the units of analysis (UN documents) are selected and the discourse analysis is executed, followed by a concluding discussion. It must be added that my endeavor is clearly constrained insofar as not all relevant documents from a wider range of actors (e.g. NGOs or epistemic communities) can be included.


In this section, I aim to show why ideas and paradigms matter, complemented by some remarks on ways to analyze paradigms/discourses. In the end, we will have adopted a pragmatic term of discourse as well as some crucial analytical concepts.


With the so-called cognitive turn in the social sciences, the relevance of ideational elements for (the construction of) social reality has been increasingly acknowledged. In political science, usually an analytic distinction is drawn between ideas and interests. Ideas may mean belief systems, worldviews or specific strategies of actions and policy programs (Campell 2001: 159). But are they central to policy-making, as cognitivists would suggest? Or are they merely hooks or symbolic ingredients in interest-based decisions?

Nullmeier (2001: 290) believes that ideas have causal power independent of other factors, includ- ing interests. Accordingly, I would argue that ideas are always essential factors in the political process: they can shape cognition by li]miting the realm of options which are considered desira- ble, consequently having an impact on the actual outcome. In other words, problem definition as well as subsequent policy formulation is (at least in part) structured by certain ideas. Elucidating my rather simple argument, Goldstein and Keohane (1993, cit. in ibid. 291) assign three crucial roles to ideas: a) ideas provide maps to political actors, so that they can define their goals by link- ing them to normative principles; b) ideas influence outcomes of strategic interactions - ideas are focal points to find solutions; c) ideas have a sustainable influence on politics by being embedded in institutions.

Even so, the concept of ideas still is too broad and should not be used as a basic term (ibid. 292). I have thus decided to use more precise terms, which are outlined below. Most importantly, due to the issue at hand, I have chosen to call the underlying ideational packages referring to the type of GWG to be pursued Hydroparadigms. In a different terminology, and often with another theo- retical background, this dynamic may be also seen as a discourse (or several competing dis- course formations).


Here, I want to clarify what I mean by discourse analysis, which is a highly diverse field in the area of social constructivism and/or critical theory. Initially, we want to know what a discourse is. Donati (2001: 147) states that the concept includes all forms of social dialogue that happens be- tween individuals and social groups, organizations and institutions. Discursive fields, then, are the arenas where ideational elements such as ideologies, belief systems and opinions appear and compete for the dominant view. In that way, (public) actors may become active, reacting to, pro- jecting, anticipating and transforming discourses of other actors. Or as Hajer (1995: 44) puts it: “Discourse is […] defined as a specific ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categorizations that are produced, reproduced, and transformed in a particular set of practices and through which meaning is given to physical and social realities”. In this sense, our social world is a product of our ways categorizing and seeing the world - it is a product of discourses.

Hence, political discourses are interactions of various political actors “through which problematic situations are converted to policy problems, agendas are set, decisions are made and actions are taken” (Rein 1986: 1, cit. in Donati 2001: 148). A political discourse “consists of whatever policy actors say to one another and to the public in their efforts to generate and legitimize a policy [program]. As such, discourse encompasses both a set of policy ideas and values and an interactive process of policy construction and communication” (Schmidt 2002: 210, cit. in Kerchner 2006: 42). Within this understanding, political outcomes are seen as dependent on the interpretations of problems on the side of institutions. Political topics and policy problems represent the expression of the ground for competing interpretations of reality, which collide and may be changed by using discursive means. Policy documents, then, contain guiding ideas and discursive practices of political problem interpretations. As a result, concrete policies are implemented and come into practice. The location of my analysis in the policy process - as already pointed out above - is thus the realm between problem definition and policy formulation.


In contrast to most proponents of discourse analysis, I agree with Nullmeier (2001: 303) who makes a clear distinction between discourse analysis as theory and as method instead of merg- ing these aspects. While the mentioned discourse theory elements are occupied with the signific- ance of discourses in the process of the socially constructed constitution of reality, the method merely refers to the principles of the empirical investigation (Kerchner 2006: 35). Therefore, I view discourse analysis as a special kind of text-analytical method, including not only content, but also the timing of statements and the role of the actor who stated them (institutional context). This is why it may also be characterized as a different way of looking at institutions than that of tradi- tional institutional analysis.

So, in the following section, I will only outline the most important and useful theoretical concepts for my investigation, thereby rejecting some of the theoretical implications of (critical) discourse analysis since, in my opinion, they go too far.3 Thus, at the end of this discussion, we shall have adopted a pragmatic understanding of discourses, equipped with some crucial concepts. Campell (2001: 166-167) maps the (itself evasive) concept of ideas by establishing two dimen- sions that each has two categories, thereby specifying clearer terms. The first dimension makes a distinction between ideas as concepts and theories in the foreground or the background of a poli- cy debate. The second distinguishes between the cognitive and the normative level.

Table 1 Forms of Ideas Foreground

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

On the cognitive level in the foreground, programs (or policy prescriptions) “are cognitive con- cepts and theories that facilitate action among elites by specifying how to solve specific policy problems” (ibid.) and therefore, I would add, become normative.4 In the background, paradigms are “cognitive background assumptions that constrain action by limiting the range of alternatives that policy-making elites are likely to perceive as useful and worth considering” (ibid.). The fore- ground logically rests on the background, so that paradigms basically shape specific programs.5 Refining the introduced concepts, Campell (ibid. 167) first states that programs or programmatic ideas help actors to devise concrete solutions to policy problems (cf. Goldstein and Keohane, cit. above). These ideas are used deliberately. Second, paradigms may be seen as fundamental world views or conceptions. For this study, however, it means a more narrow set of beliefs: a cer- tain „programmatic policy philosophy‟ such as a neoliberalism. Campell (ibid. 170) defines it more broadly:

“Paradigms constitute broad cognitive constraints on the range of solutions that actors perceive and deem useful for solving problems. In contrast to programmatic ideas, which are precise, concrete, and policy-specific courses of actions articulated consciously by policy makers and experts in the cognitive foreground, paradigms generally reside in their cognitive backgrounds as underlying theoretical and ontological assumptions about how the world works.”

Having outlined these analytical terms, it should be clear that, by trying to be as neutral as possible, I only included some theoretical implications of discourse analysis, which is the basic social constructivist approach together with the concepts introduced. As a result, we have adopted a pragmatic analytical term of discourse that is not so theory-laden. Paradigms and programs are, in consequence, merely seen as the basic building blocks of discourses or as discursive themes, excluding any further assumptions.

The debate on water issues can be usefully unpacked through such a version of discourse analy- sis. After all, in this domain, fundamental issues such as the causes of water problems and their solutions are highly contested (Conca 2006:3; Langridge 2008: 276). In other words, there is a need for a common understanding of water problems and solutions, because for a more effective GWG, “the validity and stability of shared knowledge and rationalist discourse among participants are essential” (Langridge ibid.). The different actors, so I argue, are driven by Hydroparadigms as the (adversary) policy philosophies, conzeptualizing a Hydroparadigm as a specific set of a paradigm and according programs concerned with GWG. Such discursive themes are also central ingredients that precede eventual regime formation.6


Discursive global Hydropolitics, as Allan (2005) calls it, analyzes the prerequisites for the emer- gence of regimes7 - the Hydroparadigms. In this section, these fundamentals are analytically dis- tinguished with a typological approach deducted from a literature review. First, we need to define GWG, though. Second, I will outline what relevant authors have posited in respect to Hydropara- digms and then develop an own typology. Lastly, the question of a possible paradigm shift is dis- cussed.8


The water issue has entered the analytic discussion of the political dimensions of water resources management as a consequence of the emphasis on governance in global development policy debates (Mollinga 2008: 24). Generally, the term governance refers to the management of common affairs. Yet - as opposed to government - it involves many governmental and nongovernmental actors within formal and informal institutional patterns that contribute to policy formulation and implementation, making the system of coordination and steering processes very complex (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008: 423).

The term water governance as a new catch-phrase entered the international discourse at the Bonn Freshwater Conference in 2001 (Sehring 2005: 101). When defining this term, normative and analytic dimensions should be distinguished. An analytic definition by the Global Water Part- nership and adopted by the UN states that “water governance refers to the range of political, so- cial, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water re- sources and the delivery of water services, at different levels of society” (UNESCO 2003: 372, cit. in Shering 2005: 105). So, it covers all economic, social, political organizations and formal as well as informal rules/processes that influence water management and use.The normative aspect of the concept includes factors influencing water governance that raise the question what we can learn from them with respect to what water governance should be and how it can be reached (Sehring 2005: 109). Here, the term good governance is helpful, which comprises a set of norma- tive goals, namely accountability, participation, responsiveness, equity, coherency, ethics, predic- tability, and transparency (Wouters 2008: 528; Sehring 2005: 110). Thus, good water governance merges good governance with the political domain of water.


1 Vogler (2008) states that there is an intimate link of scarcity of vital natural resources with cycles of poverty and destitution. Or as Gleick (2000: 131) puts it: „Universal access to basic water services is one of the most fundamental conditions of human development.“ See also Lenton et al. (2008: 252).

2 For example, the UN Millennium Declaration acknowledged water‟s vital importance, the political science journal Global Governance (2008/14: 4) published a special issue on water and The Economist (May 22, 2010) did likewise. For a very thorough (but also clearly normative) account of how the water issue has risen on the global development agenda see Rechkemmer & Schmidt (2006).

3 This is why I dare omit the leading figure of discourse analysis, Michel Foucault, who takes a quite critical perspective.

4 I disagree with Campell labelling programs and paradigms as merely cognitive. I think there are indeed normative elements included in these concepts as well, because any political program involves taking an according normative stance.

5 One might wonder why I have not included frames or framing, concepts also included by Campell and increa- singly used in the social sciences. I believe they are not as useful for my endeavor, as they mostly operate more on a micro-level focusing on specific metaphors and analogies impacting a recipient who is considered to pick up familiar frames or schemes through which some perceptions, objects and occurrences are interpreted as significant (Donati 2001: 149ff.). However, since my focus is more on a meso-/macro-level in which specific pro- grams shaped by particular paradigms influence discourses in a policy issue as a whole (and not some individ- ual recipients), the concept of framing - or at least how I interpret it here - will not be included.

6 Conca (2006) offers more on actual regime formation in GWG - an aspect not included here.

7 As regimes normally encompass dimensions of territoriality, authority, and knowledge, my endeavor can be seen in the context of constructing an accepted base of such knowledge for concrete regime formation.

8 A historical overview of problems and dynamics in Hydropolitics is not provided here. Gleick (2000: 128) and Finger (2005: 277-278), for example, offer more on this.


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water global governance global water governance paradigms discourse analysis UN Integrated Water Resources Management



Titel: Hydroparadigms