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The critical geopolitics of water conflicts in school textbooks: The case of Germany

Tobias Ide
Georg Eckert Institute, Braunschweig, Germany; and Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; ide@gei.de

Anna-Katharina Thiel
Chair of International Relations, University of Braunschweig, Germany; a.thiel@tu-braunschweig.de

Itay Fischhendler
Department of Geography, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; itay.fishhendler@mail.huji.ac.il

ABSTRACT: A considerable body of critical literature has analysed how scientific discussions on water-conflict links are picked up in the political, academic, economic, civil society and media domains. By contrast, there are almost no such studies for the domain of education. This void is crucial as school attendance rates and the prevalence of environmental education are on the rise, while school education has privileged access to young people during their political socialisation. We address this void by analysing the depiction of water conflicts in school textbooks from a critical geopolitics perspective. More specifically, we use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to analyse the visual and textual content of German geography textbooks published between 2000 and 2017. Our findings reveal that the analysed school textbooks securitise water and overstate the risk of water conflicts, which could yield a range of negative societal effects. The textbooks further reproduce Orientalist stereotypes about the Global South, and about the Middle East in particular, and often promote an uncritical green economy stance towards the privatisation of water. Water conflicts are hence discussed in the context of a crisis discourse and reproduce powerful knowledge that privileges certain political interests at the expense of others.

KEYWORDS: Conflict, education, geopolitics, textbooks, water, Germany