Water and Development: Commodification, Ecology and Globalisation

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

This module examines ‘water and development’ in the global South from a combined Law and Development Studies perspective.

The three main themes in the course are the commodification/marketisation of water, the political ecology of water, and global water governance and conflict. The course discusses examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and selected examples from the global North. The module is jointly taught by the Law and Development Studies and departments (professors Philippe Cullet  and Peter Mollinga).

The module, together with its companion module in term 1 ( Water Justice: Rights, Access and Movements ), examines the relation between water and development in the broader context of the governance framework that is increasingly influenced by conflicts over the resource. It discusses how legal, governance and policy frameworks for water resources have been contested in recent decades, an era of intensifying (neo) liberalisation and globalisation, and rapid economic growth in many parts of the world.

The module examines the structures, practices and discourses of water resources’ political contestation and thus seeks to provide students with a broad understanding of the multi-faceted issues arising in the water sector from the local to the international level.

Content of the module

In the first part of the module the water and development/politics of water focus is explained, and specific examples of commodification/marketisation of water are discussed, including the dynamics of groundwater markets, the payment for ecosystem services approach to sustainability, and the emerging issue of financialization and water.

The second part of the module focuses on the ecological dimension of water and development, including the role of water in climate change, energy issues related to water, and the urban political ecology of water.

The third part of the module engages with the increasingly global dimensions of water and its governance. The emergence of global water governance institutions over the past few decades is discussed. We address the transboundary water governance in the world’s international river basins and the role of technical infrastructure in national and global rule and governance.

Objectives and learning outcomes 

At the end of the module, a student should be able to demonstrate the ability to understand and analyse issues concerning water and development, notably regarding commodification, political ecology and globalisation dimensions, from a broad perspective.

Students will acquire knowledge of the basic concepts and principles underlying the governance, regulatory reform, management and conservation of water in the global South, focusing on national and regional examples in the international context in which governance evolves.


  • Weekly 2-hour seminar

Scope and syllabus

The module covers, for instance:

  • the law and politics of access to water (such as questions of equality and discrimination)
  • the law and politics of sustainability related to water (environment, pollution)
  • the law and politics of transformation (water justice, displacement

Method of assessment

• Book review or film/documentary review: 30% (1000 words)
• Essay: 70% (2500 words)

Suggested reading

  • Rutgerd Boelens, Tom Perreault & Jeroen Vos eds, Water justice (Cambridge University Press, 2018).
  • Oliver Cumming & Tom Slaymaker eds, Equality in Water and Sanitation Services (Routledge, 2018)
  • Felix Dodds & Jamie Bartram, The Water, Food, Energy and Climate Nexus - Challenges and an Agenda for Action (Routledge, 2016)
  • Mark Everard, The Hydropolitics of Dams – Engineering or Ecosystems? (Zed Books, 2013).
  • Bruce Lankford, Karen Bakker, Mark Zeitoun & Declan Conway eds, Water Security – Principles, Perspectives and Practices (Routledge, 2013)
  • Naho Mirumachi, Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World (London: Earthscan, 2015)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.