Diagnosing watersheds in India: Integrating power and politics in the analysis of commons governance

Shashank Deora
Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas (CTARA), Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, India; deora.shashank@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: The experience of watershed development and management in countries of the Global South highlights significant challenges to governance. Establishing the overlap between watershed and commons, this paper identifies some of the most critical challenges to watershed governance in India, which follow from the uneven power relations and politics among diverse watershed actors. Common issues are faced in the implementation of the adaptive, polycentric governance regimes that are recommended for governing complex social-ecological systems like watersheds. Popular approaches in the commons literature that are focused on institutional analysis, however, do not adequately engage with the power and politics in natural resource governance; indeed, power relations and politics around a watershed can be better analysed using a social constructionist approach to natural resource governance. As has been attempted in some recent commons scholarship, this should include perspectives from political ecology, feminist political ecology, and critical human geography. Such an approach can help explain the historical emergence of the watershed through multiple socially constructed processes. It can also facilitate investigation into the relationship between watershed governing institutions and the changing human subjectivities of watershed actors that underlie dynamic scalar commoning. This paper discusses the potential, challenges and limitations of a social constructionist approach to the comprehensive diagnosis of watersheds; it also highlights some key questions that can be addressed through future research.

KEYWORDS: Watershed governance, watershed and commons, scalar dynamics, power and politics, socially constructed commons, human subjectivities, India