IWA Publishing

Scales of justice in water governance: hydropower controversies in Switzerland

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One significant challenge for the operationalization of water justice arises from the many dynamic scales involved. In this paper we explore the scalar dimension of justice in water governance through the insights derived from empirical research on hydropower production in the Swiss Alps and the application of the geographical concept of politics of scale. More specifically, we investigate how different actors frame the justice problem, the scales that they invoke and which actors consequently get included or excluded in their justice assessments. This study shows that there is no ideal scale for justice evaluations; whichever scale is used, some actors and justice claims are included whereas others are excluded. This is particularly true when using Fraser's trivalent concept of justice, taking into account issues of distribution, recognition and participation where each calls for its own set of scales. Moreover, focusing on the politics of scale framing, our study reveals that the justice claim itself can become a power element. Consequently, to achieve more just water governance, there is not only a need for debate and negotiations about the conceptions and meanings of justice in a specific context, there is also a need for debate about the relevance and implications of divergent scales involved in justice claims.

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