Caring matters in knowing water

The introductory post of a series on “Caring matters in knowing water” based on the research undertaken by Margreet Zwarteveen during her FIAS Fellowship at the Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions, and on the interdisciplinary workshop that she organised in June with researchers, activists and teachers.

From September 2021 until July 2022, I enjoyed the luxury of a FIAS fellowship – which allowed me to spend time in the Mediterranean city of Montpellier. I was hosted by the Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions, and G-EAU – an interdisciplinary research group that works on questions of water. During my time in Montpellier, I worked on a project called “Caring water practices and practicing water care”.

I marked the end of my stay with the organisation of an event, “”Caring matters in knowing water”, which brought together some 35 researchers, activists, and teachers from two UNESCO interdisciplinary water centres: IHE-Delft and ICIREWARD in Montpellier, and two EU sponsored international training networks – WEGO (Well-being, Ecology, Gender and cOmmunity) and NEWAVE (New Water Governance) – with a few other interested water scholars. The event centred around the idea that ‘knowledge-as-usual’ needs to be re-invented if water science and scholarship are to (more) effectively support and help bring about transformations to sustainability.

The workshop participants came together on the 21st and 22nd of June in a beautiful setting – an organic vineyard close to Montpellier– to engage in two days of conversations around three themes:

Critically transforming

Discussing ways to ‘decolonize’ water, a first thematic workshop discussed 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 figured 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. A second workshop explored 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 third 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 the intrinsic complexity of governing water. Can highlighting water governance as care open up new – more sustainable, just, modest – ways to think and do water?

The museum of the unspeakable (Credits: Cristian Olmos Herrera)

Together, these conversations were testimony of how much energy and creativity there is within the water community. Perhaps, relaxing the pressure to perform as an academic, scholar, educator or activist – even if just for a few days – helped release some of this energy? The many differences among participants – in entry-points, backgrounds, convictions – formed a fertile ground for debate, and inspired processes of mutual learning and reflection – even when sometimes provoking discomfort. For me the two days were a strong reminder that political-scholarly alliances can be formed across difference and situatedness – and that social science critique is not just useful to expose what goes or is wrong, but can also be mobilized to engage in and support processes of transformative change.

In the next days we will publish three blogposts zooming in what happened and was discussed in the three thematic workshops, also illustrating some of the awkwardness of translating between disciplines, generations and contexts. Read them if you are interested in cross-disciplinary conversations and collaborations, and do provide feed-back and comments!

Cite this blog post
Margreet Zwarteveen (2022, November 11). Caring matters in knowing water. FLOWs. Retrieved May 25, 2024, from

Margreet Zwarteveen

I am professor of Water Governance at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the University of Amsterdam. Trained as both an engineer and a social scientist, I study water allocation policies and practices, focusing on questions of equity and justice. My research includes the study of different institutional and technical modalities for allocating water and regulating water flows, and of different ways to understand or legitimize these. I use an interdisciplinary approach, seeing water allocation as the often contested outcome of interactions between nature, technologies and society.

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    […] caring” was the third thematic workshop of the event “Caring matters in knowing water”. As both a concept and an attitude towards doing research “care” is becoming more prominent in […]

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