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Negotiating the nature of water- and miningscapes: Institutions, discourses and practices of governing natural resources

  • 3 April, 2024
  • VU University Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)
  • D. HuitemaP.H. Pattberg
  • Jampel Dell'AngeloI. Dombrowsky

This thesis disentangles the complex dynamics of water and mining conflicts, seeking to understand how environmental (in)justices related to the water use of mining companies emerge and can be addressed. To do so, it focusses on institutions that regulate water use and natural resource extraction, discourses that legitimize and normalize certain social-environmental actions while rendering others unconceivable, and practices of governing the intersection of water and mining. Specifically, it pursues the following questions: 1. What are the factors or combinations of factors that explain how water and mining conflicts develop and evolve, according to existing academic literature? 2. What are the transnational institutional regimes that govern mining-related water use? Which forms of water use do they recognize and into which discourses are they embedded and gain authority from? 3. How do institutional legacies, discourses and political economic or material contexts impact efforts to (re)shape water- and miningscapes via the implementation of water protection legislation or provisions for public participation? 4. How do notions of ‘appropriate’ social-environmental interactions emerge through the interplay of different rationalities and how do they articulate themselves in practices of governing water and mining? 5. What are the conceptual and practical implications of these findings for the pursuit of environmental justice? How can (contested) institutions, discourses and practices be researched and (re)shaped to promote just social-environmental interactions? Questions 1-4 are answered in the main body of the thesis (Chapters 2-5), while the concluding chapter (Chapter 7) addresses the final question. The thesis moves from global dynamics and rule-setting to place-based interactions and meanings, placing a geographical focus on Mongolia. It applies a multi-method approach, combining systematic synthesis with in-depth, interpretative analyses and drawing on concepts from political ecology, institutional analysis, and post-structuralism. Water and mining conflicts emerge out of various combinations of social, cultural, and political-economic factors and require an integrated view capable of accounting for complex causality. Diverging water ontologies and a lack of opportunities to articulate and negotiate them, e.g. through participation processes, exacerbate contestation. However, participation processes can also be exclusionary and reify existing hierarchies, as their implementation depends on material contexts, historical (social and institutional) legacies and beliefs about authoritative knowledge and expertise. In addition, state officials charged with implementing institutional provisions are themselves embedded in cognitive-symbolic and social networks, as well as political economic and administrative structures that shape the accounts of existing reality, visions for the future, and incentives that influence their decisions. Understanding how governance practices emerge and shape water- and miningscapes thus requires disentangling ‘the state’ into individual actors. Finding ways to improve the recognition of and respect for ontological difference within institutional frameworks and governance practices remains a major challenge for the pursuit of environmental justice, as it affects how costs and benefits are distributed and procedures are implemented. In consequence, research on how institutional frameworks and governance practices for mining, water, and natural resources in general can better account for the multiplicity of natures and subjectivities is urgently needed.

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Mirja Schoderer

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