Margreet Zwarteveen

UNESCO-IHE Delft Institute for Water Education (The Netherlands)
MAK’IT Montpellier
10 months
Research Project

Caring water practices and practicing water care: Mobilizing STS and decolonial studies’ insights to energize transdisciplinary collaborations in support of transformations to sustainability

This FIAS project is premised on the realization that growing pressures on the environment – and the resulting pollutions, scarcities, and depletions – are not natural processes but the outcome of specific histories and practices of exploitation or ‘development’. The search for more sustainable futures, therefore, entails critically questioning these, as well as the science and technologies that help make them possible.

Focusing on water-related problems, I propose experimenting with new transdisciplinary approaches that straddle many of the binaries – between nature and culture, modernity and tradition, reason and emotion, etc. – to explore their potential for sparking new conversations and imaginaries. Realizing more sustainable futures also requires identifying new meeting grounds for “thinkers” (often critical social scientists) who look at the past and sift through evidence, and “doers” who look ahead to build, make or implement (often planners and engineers).

In my project I intend to help create these meeting grounds through collaborative projects that are based on the insistence that learning – and the generation of knowledge – is always situated in specific practices. Shifting the discussion from ‘what is true’ to ‘what works’, or so I hope, will make the conversation more pragmatic and modest as well as more explicitly political.


Margreet Zwarteveen is a Wageningen-trained irrigation engineer and social scientist. She worked with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and the University of Wageningen before joining IHE Delft in 2014 to become its professor of Water Governance. Her professorial affiliation is with the University of Amsterdam.

Dr. Zwarteveen studies water policies and practices, focusing on questions of (gender-) equity and justice. Her research includes the study of different institutions, organizations and technologies for distributing water and regulating water flows. She favours an interdisciplinary approach, seeing water distributions as the outcome of interactions between ecology, technologies and society. The relation between power, politics and water is central in her work. She for instance studied how the introduction of supposedly water efficient technologies (drip irrigation) went accompanied with, and caused, changes in water tenure relations that favour some people more than others.

Dr. Zwarteveen is also interested in questions emerging at the interface between science and policy when governing water. She currently is the coordinator of the project “Transformations to Groundwater Sustainability”. She also is also is an enthusiastic member of two EU funded International Training networks: WEGO and NEWAVE.