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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Navigating bordered geographies : water governance along the Canada - United States border Norman, Emma Spenner


This thesis investigates the rescaling of transboundary water governance across the Canada – U.S. border, focusing on three regional case studies: the Shared Waters Alliance, the Salish Sea Aboriginal Council, and the International Joint Commission Watershed Initiative. The case studies employ qualitative data drawn from interviews, participant observation, and quantitative data drawn from a comprehensive dataset that I created on transboundary water governance mechanisms over the period 1910 to the present. The analysis of the empirical material outlined above enables me to intervene in current debates over scale, governance, and borders, through mobilizing three bodies of literature: environmental governance, the politics of scale, and the social construction of borders. The resulting theoretical framework – which focuses on the rescaling of environmental governance within borderlands – contains three key conceptual claims. First, I argue that studying environmental governance at the site of the border helps to move discussions beyond a nation-state framework – challenging what Agnew refers to as the territorial trap. This is important given the nation-state focus of a significant proportion of the literature on environmental governance, an obvious over-sight considering the tendency of environmental issues (such as air and water pollution) to transcend national borders. Secondly, I argue that drawing on the “politics of scale” literature can offer new insights into processes of rescaling of environmental governance, specifically through interrogating local governance capacity in the context of devolution of environmental governance. In particular, my analysis challenges (often implicit) assumptions regarding the capacity of local actors to participate effectively in multi-scalar governance processes. Third, I argue that closer attention to borders can help refine critical assessments of transboundary environmental governance. Specifically, I suggest that all borders (even seemingly “natural” ones) are part of cultural construction and wider politics of power that help define and redefine the landscape. Pursuant to this, I explore how discursive (often-jingoistic) strategies are deployed to entrench borders – both physically and discursively. Understanding transboundary governance of water, in other words, requires close attention to the cultural politics of the border.

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