Networks in water governance (Fischer and Ingold, 2020)

Emmanuel Manzungu

HD Fischer, M. and Ingold, K. (Eds.). 2020. Networks in water governance. Palgrave Macmillan. 344 p. ISBN: 9783030467692 (ebook)/ ISBN 9783-030467715 (softcover)/. 96€ (ebook)/126 Euros (softcover).


Emmanuel Manzungu

Professor of Agricultural Landscapes, Waterscapes and the Environment, University of Zimbabwe;

To cite this Review: Manzungu, E. (2022). Networks in Water Governance, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, edited by Manuel Fisher and Karin Ingold,


This book, which is part of the Palgrave Studies on Water Governance series, is an important addition to the literature on water governance. The focus on water governance is justified on the ground that “water governance is complex, and network concepts and practices allow us to grasp some of that complexity as well as ways of addressing it” (p.1), and have potential to contribute to such areas as public policy, public administration, and governance studies and beyond (p2).

The book uses a network perspective as the overall framework, and applies concepts and measures of Social Network Analysis (SNA) to shed light on complex interactions among the large diversity of actors, institutions and issues related to water governance (p.3).

Nine case study chapters make up the book, in addition to the introductory chapter, the conceptual foundations of the book (Chapter 2), and the concluding chapter whose aim is to draw insights about comparability, generalizability, caveats and emerging research questions. The first three case studies focus on network fragmentation and clustering within water governance networks in Honduras, international water cooperation database and Switzerland. The next three chapters present ways to overcome network fragmentation and reduce clustering in the Paraiba river basin, the Lake Tahoe basin in the USA and the Rhine river basin. The last three case study chapters focus on centrality and on specific actors that drive water governance. In line with SNA, the case study chapters employ statistical analysis of water governance interactions using, among others, Dynamic Network Actor Models, Stochastic actor-oriented Modelling, Quadratic Assignment Procedures, and Exponential Random Graph Models.

Many researchers in the water governance domain will be unfamiliar with the kind of analysis presented in the book and the related literature. Many will also find the statistical representation of human interaction uncomfortable, and some even unconvincing. This has nothing to do with the academic rigour of the book but the approach. Following the same thread of thought, one may wonder whether the same conclusions would be arrived at if traditional social science methods had been used. Indeed this point is made in the book but perhaps could have been made more forcefully. There is a remark that measurement is never precise in the social sciences (p. 301), and that there is a case for combining network analysis with qualitative data, which helps to provide a more nuanced view (p. 166). The geographical spread of the case studies is another major talking point. Out of the nine case studies, three are from the USA (North America), one from Honduras (Central America), one from Brazil (South America), three from Europe (Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg), one from Iran (south west Asia) and one global dealing with international cooperation. There is no indication of why the particular case studies were selected. The African continent and a large part of Asia are not represented. One can only conjecture whether the book would have been stronger if there had been a more deliberate selection of case studies to include a more geographical spread and different political systems.

Some misgivings can also be expressed about the (over)reliance of some chapters on newspaper articles. While it may be argued that these were in jurisdictions with a liberal free press, vested private interests cannot be discounted. A related question is: would this method to assess water governance networks be useful in jurisdictions with restrictive press freedom or liberal press does not exist. A minor but disturbing issue is the repetition of description of the case studies in the introductory and concluding chapters. In the introductory chapter, there are sub-sections whose differences are not striking as for instance when reference is made to summary of case studies and comparative view of case study chapters. Further, the reference to “Key findings per chapter” in the concluding chapter seems to repeat what is covered in the preceding chapters. The “Learnings from and Application of Network Concepts and Measures to Water Governance” section could have sufficed.

Despite these shortcomings, the book is of interest to researchers who apply network analysis in the study of water governance, and to water governance research community at large.


Additional Info

  • Authors: Manuel Fisher and Karin Ingold
  • Year of publication: 2020
  • Publisher: Palgrave-MacMillan
  • Reviewer: Emmanuel Manzungu
  • Subject: Water policy, Water governance
  • Type: Review
  • Language: English