“Public water”, “water is life”, “private water”, “democratic water”: water is not just H2O but an “empty container” in which history, culture, ideology and power configurations intersect in producing different meanings and ways of imagining and managing it. Its chemical formula is its only fixed trait; its political formula is changing, contingent and often conflictive. We know that the climate emergency will be increasing the conflicts over natural sources such as water: What does it mean to have a right to water? How should this crucial resource be distributed and managed? Based on which values and political-legal mechanisms?
The thesis entitled “The socio-cognitive dimension of water: the politicisation of water in Barcelona” by Lucia Alexandra Popartan, puts a magnifying lens on one particular historical moment and one city where two paradigms confront each other: the water management of the city of Barcelona, after 150 years of uninterrupted private/public-private management, has been challenged by a new political project advanced by social movements and new political parties. By using a critical discourse analysis methodology and relying on original materials (interviews and representative texts), this thesis identifies the mechanisms through which water is taken out of the realm of consensus and transformed in a conflictive issue, i.e. it becomes politicised. In the period analysed here (2015-2020), urban water management has become a battlefield for legitimation of public and private actors in the public arena. This confirms the idea that the parameters of decision-making do not reflect purely cost-benefit and efficiency criteria but are connected to power configurations and mental frameworks.
The thesis, directed by Dr. Manel Poch Espallargas and Dr. María José Amores Barrero, was carried out at technological centre CETAQUA (group Suez) and UdG research group LEQUIA within the framework of the Industrial Doctorate Program from the Government of Catalonia. For both organisations, this opens new paths to investigate social and political aspects of water management and treatment, on which they have a consolidated background. The collaboration between university and the private sector has been crucial to obtain relevant results at both the conceptual and empirical levels.