UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Water science and democracy in Colombia's extractive frontiers Rinaldi, Parisa Nourani


Extractive frontiers are regions where resource extraction is expanding and intensifying to meet the needs of a global economy. Since extractive activities are often water-intensive, highly polluting or otherwise damaging to water bodies, extractive frontiers are often sites of water conflicts among state, industry and local actors. In Colombia, the complexities of resource extraction and water impacts have largely been addressed through a technocratic lens that projects scientific certainty and expertise. In recent years, social movements have raised the questions of precaution and uncertainty, calling for greater social dialogue and democratic processes in environmental decision-making. This dissertation employs a combination of discourse analysis, ethnographic fieldwork, and semi-structured interviews to investigate the interplay of complexities, uncertainties and the role of the expert at various scales where water science and democracy are practiced in Colombia’s extractive frontiers. Chapter 2 assesses water-oil controversies in the Colombian media between 2017 and 2021. The findings suggest that environmental narratives in Colombia have moved beyond traditional political and ideological boundaries and are now emphasizing issues of democracy, scientific uncertainty, and the precautionary principle. The study uses network analysis methods to examine the competing coalitions, storylines, and discourse frames for each controversy. Chapter 3 employs qualitative research methods (interviews, ethnography, and archival analysis) to investigate the temporal aspects of river-basin planning and the accrual of uncertainties in the Guayuriba River basin, a region subjected to multiple extractive activities, including oil extraction, palm oil cultivation and industrial gravel mining. The study finds that the drawn-out, technocratic planning process has perpetuated, accumulated, and obscured uncertainties related to flooding, water quality, and water use and availability. Chapter 4 similarly employs qualitative analysis to explore the effects of extractive industries on environmental democracy in the Guayuriba River basin. The chapter examines how, in extractive frontiers, the fundamentals of environmental democracy (access to information, participation and justice) produce cruel optimisms, leading to a sustained world of mixed frustrations and partial justice. The dissertation concludes with implications for the current challenges facing Colombia, limitations, and recommendations for future research.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International