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Institutional bricolage in irrigation governance in rural northwest China: Diversity, legitimacy, and persistence

Raymond Yu Wang
Center for Social Sciences, Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China; wangy63@sustech.edu.cn

Tipeng Chen
School of Government, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China; chentp@mail2.sysu.edu.cn

Oscar Bin Wang
Department of Politics and Public Administration, the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR, China; wangb79@hku.hk

ABSTRACT: The emergence and development of diverse institutions is an important yet understudied subject in community-based irrigation governance. Drawing on empirical evidence gathered from 30 administrative villages located in the upstream Yellow River, northwest China, this paper builds on the theoretical perspective of institutional bricolage and adopts an interpretative approach to examining diversity, legitimacy and the persistence of different institutional modalities in the case-study area. It is shown that monocentric, polycentric, bureaucratic and individualised institutions emerge and co-exist in a relatively small area and have been sustained by various sources of legitimacy. Moreover, the process of legitimisation is heterogeneous, as the various institutional modalities have drawn their legitimacy from different sources. These may be both internal and external, synthesise and contradict simultaneously, and change as the irrigation institutions initiate, operate and evolve. The findings connect irrigation institutions with everyday practices, which are non-linear and uncertain, thus bringing about a more nuanced understanding of institutional bricolage and offering more in-depth explanations for the puzzles of why institutions demonstrate different characteristics in similar contexts and why some institutions persist when faced with challenges and tension.

KEYWORDS: Irrigation governance, institutions, bricolage, legitimacy, China