Water Justice: Rights, Access and Movements

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level
School of Law

Module overview

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

The three main themes in the course are water rights/right to water, the modalities of access to water, and social movements on water issues. The course discusses examples from Asia, Africa and Latin America, and selected examples from the global North.

The module, together with its companion module in term 2 (Water and Development: Commodification, Ecology and Globalisation), 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. The module is jointly taught by the Law and Development Studies departments (professors Philippe Cullet and Peter Mollinga).

The first part of the module introduces the notion of water justice and elaborates water law by looking at water rights and the human right to water. It distinguishes between sovereign rights, individual use rights and common heritage. It elaborates on the globally adopted ‘human right to water' and discusses the ‘right to sanitation’ in that context. Lastly, recent ideas on ‘river rights’ are discussed.

The second part of the course focuses on access relations, or ‘distributive justice’, in different domains of water use, management and governance (irrigation, watershed management) and from different angles (gender relations, depoliticization).

The third part of the module focuses on social movements pursuing ‘water justice’, including social movements opposing large dam building and movements opposing urban water privatisation. The module is concluded by revisiting the notion of water justice.

This module is open to all Postgraduate Taught Students at SOAS.

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 justice, water law, and water governance from a broad perspective encompassing their economic, socio-political and environmental dimensions.

Students will acquire knowledge of the basic concepts and principles underlying the governance, regulatory reform, and 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

Method of assessment

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

Suggested reading

  • Ken Conca & Erika Weinthal eds, Oxford Handbook of Water Politics and Policy (Oxford University Press, 2018)
  • Elizabeth Jane Macpherson, Indigenous Water Rights in Law and Regulation: Lessons from Comparative Experience (Cambridge University Press, 2019)
  • Bronwen Morgan, Water on Tap: Rights and Regulations in the Transnational Governance of Urban Water Services (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Andrew Allan, Sarah Hendry eds, Routledge Handbook of Water Law and Policy (Routledge, 2019)
  • Farhana Sultana & Alex Loftus eds, Water Politics – Governance, Justice and the Right to Water (Routledge, 2019)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.