Beyond State-Fetishism: the Case for Neoliberalism as a Hydro-Hegemon

Research output: Working paperDiscussion paper


The complexity of water is found in its multi-faceted uses. It is a lifeblood, a route of transportation and the foundation of countless ecosystems. Yet, it also provides an integral engine for processes of economic development. The ascendancy of the neoliberal project has resulted in the centrality of economic growth in the responsibilities of the modern state – causing a rapid expansion in agricultural and industrial operations. To fuel this growth, policy-makers have frequently turned to water as a vehicle of development – resulting in the resource’s obstruction, overuse and redirection. However this reallocation of water regularly leads to a redistribution of the benefits that the resource provides. Vast numbers have been displaced, local economies have suffered and whole towns abandoned; all to provide benefits that are disproportionately enjoyed by others. These processes, tinted with the characteristics of neoliberalism, regularly result in the presence of low-level conflict between state and society. Whilst traditional scholarship has focused on the interstate
level, it is these sub-national processes that provide hydropolitical literature with its much-sought evidence of water wars.

This study seeks to cast the neoliberal project as a hydro-hegemon, enjoying
unprecedented power over water management. Utilising a theoretical framework
incorporating the ideational aspects of Lustick’s (2002) hegemonic compliance-inducing mechanisms (present in the Framework of Hydro-Hegemony), the Gramscian conception of common sense and the securitisation of development; the analysis will explore how neoliberalism has transformed societal perceptions of water - transforming the resource from a human need to an economic good. After an investigation of this new neoliberal water, the case study of the failed Ebro transfer scheme in Spain is presented as empirical evidence of how such hegemony is demonstrated; its hallmarks and its repercussions.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSchool of Sociology, Politics and International Studies; University of Bristol
VolumeWorking Paper No. 03-14
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2014


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