NEWAVE PhD (ESR 08): Water/mining paradigms and the politics of naturalizing water overabundance: a comparative study of extractive industries’ political-material construction of flooding and drainage problems

Universiteit van Amsterdam

Amsterdam, , NL

Host institution: Universiteit van Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Principal supervisor: Prof. Rutgerd Boelens, University of Amsterdam
Co-supervisors: Prof. Andrea Gerlak, University of Arizona; and Prof. Jeroen Vos, Wageningen University
Non-academic co-supervisor: Rodolfo Armando Rivera Pascual, Municipalidad de Quetzal, Guatemala
Application deadline: 15 March 2020
Starting date: Between 1 May and 1 September 2020
Duration: 3 years


Extractive industries as gas exploitation in Groningen (Netherlands) and construction materials mining in Quetzaltenango (Guatemala) deeply transform existing hydrosocial territories. They have created important water control and drainage problems as well as social disasters, by massive soil subsidence and earthquakes (Groningen) and deforestation/erosion and flooding of communities (Quetzaltenango). Transnational mining companies and governments, however, ‘naturalize’ these political water problems, blaming ‘Nature’ or generic ‘Climate Change’. They deploy de-politicized paradigms and neutralizing discourses of “responsible mining” and “integrated water resources management” and propose just technical and managerial solutions.

The scientific models they deploy, through “commensuration” (defining and imposing one common techno-scientific metric in order to understand, value and transform the world), produce three interrelated processes: “universalization”, “technification”, and “naturalization” of a socio-environmental problem that is fundamentally a political construct based on politics and powerful decision-making.

Civil society alliances and local governments (e.g., Indigenous Peoples Federation of Guatemala, Quetzaltenango Municipality, Groninger Bodembeweging), however, seek to historicize, contextualize, de-naturalize and re-politicize these human-made water control disasters and social marginalization schemes. Both alliances are also aware that their marginalization is related to both the political economics ánd the cultural politics of their countries: extractivism in ‘remote’ and/or ‘indigenous’ regions.They look for Guatemalan-Dutch mutual action-research, and organize at cross-cultural and multi-scalar scales to defend and reclaim their territories. Interactive PhD research will support this horizontal and comparative learning, challenging dominant knowledge paradigms and water policy models.

This ESR position will:

  1. Engage in comparative (academic and participatory action) research on the mining-water control nexus
  2. Further the theorization of capitalist transformation and governmentalization of hydrosocial territories
  3. De-naturalize, historicize and re-politicize hydro-territorial transformations and the drainage/flooding problems in Groningen and Quetzaltenango
  4. Strengthen multi-scale (local-global), multi-actor water and environmental justice alliances
  5. Devise bottom-up water governance solutions and initiatives in Groningen and Quetzaltenango.

Expected results:

  1. Comprehend the historical and contemporary water/mining nexus (in particular, the socio-environmental drainage and flooding problems) in Groningen and Quetzaltenango
  2. Mutual learning through capacity-building and cross-case exchange and strengthened cross-continental civil society alliances
  3. Attention for the water/mining problems through local, national and international policy debates, suggesting and claiming for solutions
About the Universiteit van Amsterdam

The Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA) is one of Europe’s largest research universities. It offers facilities and infrastructures which provide the most congenial setting to conduct high-quality research and has a formidable capacity for hosting, training and mentoring researchers. Its research performance is at the top of the international league in many fields. The UvA belongs to the League of European Research Universities (LERU) and maintains intensive contact with universities around the world. The research will be embedded in the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR),that unites all social science research of the UvA. The research programme focuses on the functioning of contemporary societies and their interrelationships from historical, comparative and empirical perspectives.

We seek
  • Above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Environmental Policy, Environmental Science, Water Resources Management, or related fields
  • A commitment to academic excellence with a track record of high impact research
  • Proven skills in executing empirical research in challenging contexts
  • Capacity to work independently and as part of a team
  • Fluency in Spanish and English. Dutch (Groningen case) is an asset
  • Examples of high-quality written work, such as a journal paper or equivalent
  • Outstanding interpersonal skills to work with multiple stakeholders.

Prof. Rutgerd Boelens
Professor of Political Ecology of Water in Latin America
University of Amsterdam, The Netherdlands

Prof. Andrea Gerlak
Professor at School of Geography & Development and
at Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy
University of Arizona, United States

Rodolfo Armando Rivera Pascual
Director of territorial management of the municipality of Quetzaltenango
Municipalidad de Quetzal, Guatemala