Challenging water rights formalization in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca: livelihood change and the agency of the campesina women of Huashao.

Susan Conlon

Research output: Working paper


n Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, comunidades campesinas (‘peasant’ communities)
participate in the shift from subsistence agriculture to water-intensive commercial production, while adapting to a national water rights framework. Aimed at predicted water scarcity and climate change adaptation, the ‘formalization’ of water use practices and institutions assumes people are motivated by water use efficiency and a technicaleconomic way of thinking about livelihoods and water. This article questions these assumptions by examining how and why a group of women in the village of Huashao
moved into commercial flower production despite intensified water use. Employing a nuanced understanding of agency as related to historical dynamics of place, it explores the livelihood decisions and actions embedded in water use arrangements. Through ethnography, the research showed that the women’s decisions were based on a contemplated set of connected actions developed over time structured by social and experiential learning, and a material and symbolic appreciation for activities anchored in their ideas of the right way of acting in the world. They asserted flexible, opportunistic ways of thinking and acting to reproduce livelihoods that affected water institutions outside efficiency norms and institutionalized understandings of water use institutions in comunidades campesinas . The findings challenge the priority given to scientific and legal-economic knowledge forms in narrow definitions of efficiency and ‘informal’ understandings of comunidades campesinas . The research implies the need for a more flexible, integrated understanding of how change occurs, based on critical empirical research on place, in policies and practices aimed at addressing climate change impacts through water management.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 24 Feb 2021

Publication series

PublisherElsevier B.V.
ISSN (Print)0016-7185


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