Transboundary water politics as processes: the ‘circle of hydro-hegemony’

Filippo Menga, author of “Reconceptualizing hegemony: the circle of hydro-hegemony”, Water Policy Vol 18 (2) pp 401-418

We are living in a time marked by a growing political disenchantment and a general a loss of faith in the state and its institutions. The fact that we are in the age of the ‘Post-Political and Its Discontents’, as it was named by Japhy Wilson and Erik Swyngedouw (2014), might lead us to think that the state – regardless of its ideological foundations – is no longer the key actor in the international political arena. And yet, reports of the death of the state seem to have been greatly exaggerated, or at least this appears to be the case for the management of transboundary water resources, a domain in which the state is indeed still alive and kicking.

Non-state actors such as multinational enterprises, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations have undoubtedly gained an important role in global governance, but this notwithstanding the state is still the main force when it comes to shaping transboundary water arrangements and defining how water resources are shared and managed (Zeitoun et al., 2016).

It is for these reasons that in my article I have decided to engage with the state and with the ways in which its representatives (heads of state, ministers and other high-level decision-makers) delve power to maintain and consolidate an advantageous status-quo in an international river basin. With the ‘circle of hydro-hegemony’ I intend to bring to the fore a new analytical tool and, more in general, a new point of view to the analysis of transboundary water politics, one that looks at interactions between states as processes rather than as a series of uncorrelated events.

The signing of a treaty on water cooperation, the construction of a water reservoir, the dissemination of a specific discourse on water management or the militarisation of the border between two countries, are all examples of the ways in which basin riparians can use power to obtain a desired end (such as, for instance, a more advantageous water allocation). Viewing these series of events as part of a broader process can reveal the constant struggle for hegemony that drives interstate relations in several contested river basins around the world, and consequently help us scratch beneath the surface of transboundary water relations.



Wilson, J., & Swyngedouw, E. (Eds.). (2014). The Post-Political and Its Discontents: Spaces of Depoliticization, Spectres of Radical Politics. Edinburgh University Press.

Zeitoun, M., Cascão, A.E., Warner, J., Mirumachi, N., Matthews, N., Menga, F., Farnum, R., 2016. “Transboundary Water Interaction III: Contesting and Compliance”. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (forthcoming).

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