Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

River Commoning and the State: A Cross‐Country Analysis of River Defense Collectives

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Abstract:  Grassroots initiatives that aim to defend, protect, or restore rivers and riverine environments have proliferated around the world in the last three decades. Some of the most emblematic initiatives are anti-dam and anti-mining movements that have been framed, by and large, as civil society versus the state movements. In this article, we aim to bring nuance to such framings by analyzing broader and diverse river-commoning initiatives and the state–citizens relations that underlie them. To study these relations we build on notions of communality, grassroots scalar politics, rooted water collectives, and water justice movements, which we use to analyze several collective practices, initiatives, and movements that aim to protect rivers in Thailand, Spain, Ecuador, and Mozambique. The analysis of these cases shows the myriad ways in which river collectives engage with different manifestations of the state at multiple scales. As we show, while some collectives strategically remain unnoticed, others actively seek and create diverse spaces of engagement with like-minded citizen initiatives, supportive non-governmental organizations, and state actors. Through these relations, alliances are made and political space is sought to advance river commoning initiatives. This leads to a variety of context-specific multi-scalar state–citizens relations and river commoning processes in water governance arenas.

Keywords:  grassroots scalar politics; river commoning; state–citizens relations; water collectives; water justice movements



© Jaime Hoogesteger, Diana Suhardiman, Rutgerd Boelens, Fabio de Castro, Bibiana Duarte-Abadía, Juan Pablo Hidalgo-Bastidas, Janwillem Liebrand, Nuria Hernández-Mora, Kanokwan Manorom, Gert Jan Veldwisch, Jeroen Vos. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.