Liquid Power

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Liquid Power

Contested Hydro-Modernities in Twentieth-Century Spain

By Erik Swyngedouw

An examination of the central role of water politics and engineering in Spain's modernization, illustrating water's part in forging, maintaining, and transforming social power.





An examination of the central role of water politics and engineering in Spain's modernization, illustrating water's part in forging, maintaining, and transforming social power.

In this book, Erik Swyngedouw explores how water becomes part of the tumultuous processes of modernization and development. Using the experience of Spain as a lens to view the interplay of modernity and environmental transformation, Swyngedouw shows that every political project is also an environmental project.

In 1898, Spain lost its last overseas colony, triggering a period of post-imperialist turmoil still referred to as El Disastre. Turning inward, the nation embarked on “regeneration” and modernization. Water played a central role in this; during a turbulent period from the twentieth century into the twenty-first—through the Franco years and into the new era of liberal democracy—Spain's waterscapes were completely transformed, with large-scale projects that ranged from dam construction to irrigation to desalinization. Swyngedouw describes the contested political-ecological process that marked this transformation, showing that the Spain's diverse and contested paths to modernization were predicated on particular trajectories of environmental transformation.

After laying out his theoretical perspectives, Swyngedouw analyzes three periods of Spain's political-ecological modernization: the aspirations and stalled modernization of the early twentieth century; the accelerated efforts under the authoritarian Franco regime—which included six hundred dams, expanded hydroelectricity, and massive irrigation; and the changing hydro-social landscape under social democracy. Offering an innovative perspective on the relationship of nature and society, Liquid Power illuminates the political nature of nature.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262029032 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 41 figures


  • Liquid Power is a momentous addition to the annals of hydraulic state-making. Swyngedouw's sparkling analysis of water management and hydro-politics is epic in scope and decisive in detail. I can guarantee readers they won't ever see Spain the same way again.

    Andrew Ross

    author of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City

  • Scholars trying to unlock the secrets of growth, state-making, and modernization should never overlook the magical powers of natural resources. In arid lands, water is the key, as this riveting story shows. The thirst for water in Spain brought together the sirens of liberalism, fascist technocrats, and bulldozers of modernity to build a twentieth-century nation.

    Richard A. Walker

    Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Capitalist Imperative, The Country in the City, and The Conquest of Bread

  • In this remarkable book, Swyngedouw weaves together the intersecting flows of capital, power, and water, which have imprinted both the cultural and material face of modern Spain. Liquid Power is a tour de force.

    Matthew Gandy

    Professor of Geography, University College London, and author of The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination

  • In this thoroughly researched book, a top world scholar, perhaps the top world scholar in the political ecology of water conflicts, shows the continuities in water policies in Spain over one hundred years, including the thirty-five years of the Franco regime. Erik Swyngedouw analyzes how class and regional political struggles over access to water overlapped with a persistent official engineering approach to water management, whereby the ecology of rivers was sacrificed (under Fascist or democratic régimes) to economic interests and state power.

    Joan Martinez-Alier

    Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona