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Paperback | $39.00 Short | £26.95 | ISBN: 9780262532730 | 484 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 10 illus.| September 2005

Governing Water

Contentious Transnational Politics and Global Institution Building


Water is a key component of critical ecosystems, a marketable commodity, a foundation of local communities and cultures, and a powerful means of social control. It has become a source of contentious politics and social controversy on a global scale, and the management of water conflicts is one of the biggest challenges in the effort to achieve effective global environmental governance.

In Governing Water, Ken Conca examines political struggles to create a global framework for the governance of water. Threats to the world's rivers, watersheds, and critical freshwater ecosystems have resisted the establishment of effective global agreements through intergovernmental bargaining because the conditions for successful interstate cooperation—effective state authority, stable knowledge frameworks, and a territorialized understanding of nature—cannot be imposed upon water controversies. But while interstate water diplomacy has faltered, less formalized institutions—socially and politically embedded rules, roles, and practices—have emerged to help shape water governance locally and globally.

Conca examines the politics of these institutions, presenting a framework for understanding global environmental governance based on key institutional presumptions about territoriality, authority, and knowledge. He maps four distinct processes of institution building: formal international regimes for shared rivers; international networking among water experts and professionals; social movements opposing the construction of large dams; and the struggle surrounding transnational water "marketization." These cases illustrate the potential for alternative institutional forms in situations where traditional interstate regimes are ineffective.

About the Author

Ken Conca is Associate Professor of Government and Politics and Director of the Harrison Program on the Future Global Agenda at the University of Maryland.


"This is an outstanding contribution to the study of international environmental politics and world politics more generally. In clear language and moving seamlessly between theory and cases, Conca takes us beyond regime theory to the guts of the messy struggles over power and meaning that shape practices, whose routinization may give rise to institutions. He does an admirable job of keeping domestic and international politics visible in the same lens. This is the best treatment I know of the increasingly important international politics of water."
—Margaret Keck, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
"Conca has convincingly captured the complex transnational dynamics and changing governance architectures of water in world affairs. Scholars, students, practitioners, and all those who care about sustainable development, human security, and democratization should read this book."
—Sanjeev Khagram, Faculty Director, Lindenberg Center for International Development, University of Washington, and author of Dams and Development
"An excellent eye-opener. Conca's study of water produces a compelling critique of prevailing modes of global governance and a hopeful exploration of a nonterritorialist, nonstatist, nonfunctionalist social ecology."
—Jan Aart Scholte, Codirector, Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, University of Warwick
"This excellent book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the shape and evolution of the global water regime. Authoritative, nuanced, and comprehensive in its coverage, it should be on the reading list of anyone concerned with water management and politics."
—Ashok Swain, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University, Sweden
"There is hardly a more critical issue today than ensuring just and sustainable access to water. Governing Water explains the challenges of safeguarding such access and charts the emergence of genuinely innovative forms of global water governance. Theoretically sound and impressively researched, it represents a major achievement in rethinking the prospects for global environmental protection in general."
—Paul Wapner, School of International Service, American University
"The hydropolitics literature is characterized by basin-level studies, usually from areas of conflict, mostly written by scholars from disciplines other than IR. It therefore comes as a breath of fresh air when an empirical study is done at a global level of scale, by an IR specialist. This work is of great significance to both academic and water resource manager alike, because it shows deep insight into a complex subject. This contribution by Ken Conca to the field of Environmental Security and Hydropolitics is substantial."
—Anthony Turton, Gibb-SERA Chair in IWRM, Environmentek, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), South Africa


Winner of the 2006 Chadwick F. Alger Award presented by the International Studies Association (ISA)

Winner of the 2006 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award presented by the International Studies Association (ISA)

Winner of the 2006 Chadwick F. Alger Award presented by the International Studies Association (ISA)

Winner of the 2006 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award presented by the International Studies Association (ISA)