Access Regimes and Irrigation Technology: Where Does the Water Soft Path for Agriculture Lead?
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In the twentieth century, central governments managed water supply through largescale infrastructure, known as the water hard path. Water experts advocate for an alternative paradigm for the twenty-first century, or the water soft path, to encourage demand management through conservation technologies. Geographers and other social scientists have examined the water soft path as a policy prescription by evaluating its water conservation effectiveness. Yet, only a few scholars address how the water soft path intersects with existing socio-economic or political processes, and how these interactions alter social relations for those enrolled in the water regime. These studies tend to focus on the integration of water soft path technologies in urban and peri-urban areas for social reproduction. The major research question therefore becomes: How does the water soft path create new pathways of accessing and using water resources that contribute to larger processes of social and political change in the countryside? This project uses a mixed methods case study approach to examine the implementation of the WSP for groundwater irrigation in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato. Research involved long-term fieldwork, including interviews and surveys with farmers, as well as participation observation. Results show that the water soft path emerged in response to water scarcity, but also as part of a broader package of political economic reform that entailed the rescripting of state-led environmental governance. The emergence of the water soft path, however, did not signify a complete displacement of the water hard path, rather a coexistence of the two. This coexistence enabled state power to work through the instruments of the water soft path to enforce principles of demand management without devolving control over natural resources to water users. The contradictions produced by this coexistence exacerbated biophysical, economic, and political uncertainties of groundwater irrigators. The ability to mitigate these uncertainties is tied to access to irrigation efficiency devices of the water soft path. Accessing these devices, however, is not equally available to all irrigators. Thus the water soft path, through its coexistence with the water hard path, reproduces patterns and processes of power asymmetries and uneven development.
water soft path
science and technology studies
Lee, Heather Nicole (2016). Access Regimes and Irrigation Technology: Where Does the Water Soft Path for Agriculture Lead?. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from