Water and Society

Simpler buildings by watercourses. Photo.

Water and Society encompasses different forms of knowledge that integrate the analysis of water and social processes and their interplay at multiple spatial and temporal scales. Humans strongly rely on water resources to support livelihoods and provide favorable conditions for development. At the same time, every year people worldwide are affected by droughts or floods and the potentially negative effects of climatic and socio-economic changes are likely to exacerbate these risks. While benefiting from water and being exposed to with water-related disasters, humans also alter the hydrological regime by building dams, canals, levees, etc.

This research group aims to improve our understanding of human-water interactions, and the dynamics emerging from the feedbacks between hydrological and social processes. The questions that guide our research concern contemporary water-related issues and their link to sustainable development, such as examinations of hydrological risk, water distribution and access, and large water infrastructures and sustainable water use, as well as the link between water and public health. Across all themes, we also engage with questions of water justice, which concern the analysis of water and society dynamics that generate uneven vulnerability to hydrological risk, water contamination and social-environmental extremes and differentiated access to water resources, infrastructure and services. This also requires exploring dynamics of social power and engaging with inequalities in examinations of the interplay between hydrological regimes and societies.

We draw on different disciplines and theoretical perspectives to examine these questions, including sociohydrology, social-ecological systems, political ecology, as well as feminist and critical geographies. Unravelling these complex dynamics also requires methodological innovations. We are committed to collaborative and interdisciplinary work and have developed innovative methodological approaches that account for both the physical and the political dimensions of hydrological flows (system dynamics models, interdisciplinary case studies, global-to-local analyses, videography and hydrosocial story mapping).   

At the department, the studies dealing with the interface between water and society are organized around multiple research lines:

  • Sociohydrology
  • Political ecology of water and hazard
  • Social-environmental extremes
  • Water justice

The project activities are partly funded by VR, FORMAS and ERC and linked to the scientific decade Panta Rhei (2013–2022) of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS). The work is also carried out in support of three strategic research goals of the department: natural hazards, climate and sustainable development.

Contacts: Giuliano Di Baldassarre and Maria Rusca