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Imagineering waterscapes: The case of the Dutch water sector

Chris H. Büscher
Department of Development Studies, SOAS University of London, London, United Kingdom; chrisbuscher@hotmail.com

ABSTRACT: This article explores the imagineering of waterscapes using a cultural political economy (CPE) approach. 'Imagineering' is a portmanteau of imagining and engineering, and a 'waterscape' is taken to be a produced hydrosocial entity. On the one hand, then, imagineering waterscapes involves construing a hydrosocial imaginary based on material realities; on the other, such an imaginary itself ought to have performative and material effects. This article is primarily concerned with imagineering waterscapes at the national scale, taking the Dutch Water Sector (DWS) as a case in point. The article examines elements of the Netherlands' water history, geography, agential configurations, and the water infrastructural and conceptual inventions that serve as selectivities in the DWS imaginary. Anticipated performative effects of this DWS imaginary include gaining a competitive edge in the world market for water-related products and services and an enhanced power position in global water networks. The DWS case therefore illustrates how imagineering is simultaneously a cultural and political economic process or 'tactic', aimed at seducing prospective (business) partners into 'buying' particular hydrosocial visions and arrangements. I argue that imagineering is a strategic and potentially powerful tool in todayʼs intensified discursive struggles about how water (crises) ought to be seen and treated. But todayʼs focus on imagineering can also partly be explained as having replaced more coercive tactics (such as tied aid) that were once commonly used in the pursuit of Dutch water interests abroad. This is not to say that imagineering is somehow less political; our examination of this case shows how the politics of privileging and marginalising and of forgetting and remembering are engrained in the process of imagineering waterscapes.

KEYWORDS: Imagineering, waterscape, cultural political economy, Dutch Water Sector