Blog post by Susan Conlon, PhD Candidate at the Water Security Research Centre, School of International Development, University of East Anglia.
In the second session of The Nexus, resource conflicts and social justice workshop, on Monday 29 February 2016, I found Jeremy Allouche’s (IDS) contribution to dominant and alternative ways of thinking about the nexus particularly insightful.
The managerial nexus
Jeremy opened with the main way of thinking that has guided understanding of “the nexus” to date – the World Economic Forum’s managerial interpretation of the water-energy-food nexus that has promoted the rethinking of global supply chains, among business in particular, by introducing ‘efficiencies’ as a way to address global risks and to identify global solutions.
An alternative, Jeremy suggested, is a policy process that analyses hierarchical top-down processes. In this we would develop an understanding of what the nexus looks like by analysing the impacts of policy changes driven by nexus-related goals on business actors and their operations on the ground, for example the implementation of drip irrigation to improve water efficiency in India.
Another approach is the development of networks through events like today’s Nexus Network workshop and others. These ‘communities of practice’ would come together to contest hegemonic* discourses, to thrash out what should be included and excluded on the nexus ‘shopping list’ of concepts. So, should ecosystem services or climate change threats, for example, be considered within the framing?
Jeremy commented that these communities of practice are not always critical enough about the discursive impacts of these concepts on the ground, particularly in terms of their power to legitimize claims. He stressed the importance of drawing out the agendas driving nexus thinking, and how these may compete with others e.g. climate change. These communities should also ponder whether it is worth diffusing a concept in the first place.
a way of life
A third way of thinking about the nexus could reflect ways of life, linking to livelihoods, what Jeremy coined “the informal nexus”. To many rural farmers, the links between food, water and energy are axiomatic. Drawing on the case of the Kulekhani dam in Nepal, Jeremy posited that local actors had reframed what started as an energy project using nexus thinking, referring to the contestation and negotiation process that followed the redesign of the dam, causing many to lose their livelihoods, but which subsequently led to the recognition of fishermen’s rights to use the reservoir.
*Hegemony is the geopolitical method of indirect imperial dominance, with which the hegemon (leader state) rules subordinate states, by the threat of intervention, an implied means of power, rather than by direct military force, that is, invasion, occupation, and annexation.
About the author
Susan Conlon is a PhD Candidate in the School of International Development and part-time Coordinator of UEA’s Water Security Research Centre. Susan carried out ethnographic research with a campesino community in north-west Peru in 2014, an area where claims are being made that glacier retreat is already impacting water supplies. Her research explores how livelihood practices and choices are influenced by water security discourses and action, and how these discourses are shaped in turn by the language of climate change, adaptation and sustainability. Her interests lie in the paradoxes between what people say and do, which has particular import for understanding situated concerns and priorities in an area juggling socio-economic change with policy and institutional change in water management practices.
Image credit: with thanks to Acumen_ on flickr.