New article to compare approaches to studying human-water interactions (open access)

by Anna Wesselink

Wesselink A, Kooy M, Warner J (2016) Socio-hydrology and hydrosocial analysis: towards dialogues across disciplines. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Water

In the Hydro-Social Deltas research project we seeks to understand the dynamic interplay between hydrological processes (flooding, riverbank erosion, waterlogging) and social processes (demographic shifts, urbanization processes, governance) in Bangladesh and the Netherlands.


Figure 1 – Water and people interacting in urban slums

In our team we have researchers from very different backgrounds, including hydrologists, critical human geographers and civil engineers. They use different concepts and build on different bodies of literature that we labelled ‘socio-hydrology’ and ‘hydrosocial research’ respectively. In our new paper, recently published online in open access, we make an inventory of these different approaches and position them in wider scientific paradigms. The initial goal of this work was to understand the commonalities and differences in the foundations of our teams’ research, which helps us to communicate within our team.


Figure 2 – Summary of the paper’s findings


Figure 3 – An example of a socio-hydrological model of flood plains (from: Di Baldassare et al. 2013)

However, the usefulness of this paper is more general. Socio-hydrology is a new field of research, so the terminology for key concepts is still being developed. Hydrosocial research, in the other hand, has a longer history and key terminology. There is a danger, which we already saw on a few occasions, that terms already in use in hydrosocial research are being re-defined in socio-hydrology. This will lead to confusion, and we hope we help to prevent this. Overall, we hope that we contribute to more reflexivity amongst researchers on the foundational assumptions they make.


Figure 4- Concerns in hydrosocial research (from Swyngedouw 1999)

Baldassarre, G. D., Viglione, A., Carr, G., Kuil, L., Salinas, J. L., & Blöschl, G. (2013). Socio-hydrology: conceptualising human-flood interactions. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 17(8), 3295-3303.
Swyngedouw, E. (1999). Modernity and hybridity: nature, regeneracionismo, and the production of the Spanish waterscape, 1890–1930. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 89(3), 443-465.

Cite this blog post
Emanuele Fantini (2016, December 7). New article to compare approaches to studying human-water interactions (open access). FLOWs. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Department of IHE Delft. Committed to public engagement and crossover projects with artists and journalists, Emanuele coordinates the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media, science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin”, he hosts the podcasts “The Sources of the Nile”, “Water Alternatives Podcast”, and “Si dice acqua”, and he is the editor of IHE Delft Water Governance Blog, FLOWs.

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1 Response

  1. 11/12/2017

    […] long-term climate change-induced system planning in dynamic deltas. The advanced understanding of hydro-social interactions will support policies and strategies for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. The […]

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