Karen Jessica Bakker


Relevant Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Re-Animating Andean Worlds: Kamayoq, the Politics of "Culturally Appropriate" Knowledge Extension, and Ethnodevelopment in the Peruvian Andes (2015)

This dissertation positions the kamayoq of the Southern Peruvian Andes (Sierra Sur) within the context of globalized ethnodevelopment networks. Contemporary kamayoq are indigenous, community-based specialists who act as “transcultural bridges” within a “culturally appropriate” methodology of campesino-a-campesino (farmer-to-farmer) knowledge transfer. Building on the results of a follow-the-thing methodology (deployed across fourteen months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork), I use the case of the kamayoq to develop a critique of ethnodevelopment – a notion that encapsulates how development programmes put culture and cultural groups to work in order both to incorporate them within broader development trajectories, and to protect them from some of the negative effects of such participation. I draw on – and contribute to – relevant debates in political economy, political ecology, development studies, and Andean studies to make a series of empirical and theoretical contributions.I conduct a Polanyian historical analysis of how the kamayoq have supported economic integration across different modes of production and forms of governance (since the fifteenth century). I develop a contemporary analysis of how ethnodevelopment programmes construct the kamayoq as ‘ethnic experts’ and ethno-entrepreneurial subjects within a new rural economy of Peru, thereby transforming a dynamic form of Andean learning-by-doing (aprender hacer) – as embodied by the kamayoq – into a form of ‘ethnic expertise’ on display (saber hacer). The recent government programme of certifying the competencies of the kamayoq according to national standards further acts as a kind of Foucauldian ethnodevelopmental dispositif, as it conducts the conduct of the kamayoq. Reflecting on these findings, I explore whether the kamayoq contribute to a uniquely Andean form of economic organization (‘Andinidad’; characterized by reciprocity, collectiveness, and communal ownership); I position this discussion in relation to Peruvian scholarship on decolonizing development. Finally, I develop a political economy-inflected ‘intimate ecology’ of the role the kamayoq play in connecting alpaca genetic reproduction networks in the Andes, thereby entering debates around multiple ontologies and Andean living worlds. I present the notion of a ‘vital economy’ as a way of understanding the links between economic production, genetic reproduction, and the ‘re-wilding’ of alpacas in order to maintain species vitality.

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From water to watershed: an analysis of rescaled water governance in Canada (2012)

Recent water governance reforms (in Canada and internationally) promote a shift from political to watershed boundaries for the purposes of water governance. This ‘watershed approach’ typically includes a shift from political to hydrologic boundaries, increased extra-governmental participation in decision-making, and some degree of delegation to watershed-scale organizations. This dissertation analyzes the uptake of the watershed approach in four Canadian jurisdictions: Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, and answers the following research question: why has rescaling to watersheds occurred, and what are its governance implications? The empirical analysis employs primary data derived from legislative and policy reviews, as well as from forty-nine in-depth interviews with representatives from provincial governments, watershed-scale organizations, and non-governmental organizations in four case study provinces. The theoretical framework of the dissertation draws on – and engages with – recent debates about scale, governance, environmental management, and political ecology.On this basis, the dissertation makes three interrelated arguments. The first argument is that the justifications for choosing a watershed approach are often ambiguous. Specifically, Chapter 3 of the dissertation highlights a conceptual slippage between watersheds’ development as a technical tool and uptake as a governance framework. The second argument is that the widespread appeal of watersheds can be explained, at least in part, by their status as boundary objects (defined as a common or shared concept interpreted differently by different groups). And third, the dissertation argues that the implications of rescaled water governance can usefully advance current conceptualizations of rescaling by informing debates with respect to the political ecology of scale. Together, these arguments contribute to current knowledge by pointing to a new approach to the study of watersheds. Moreover, the synthetic findings of the dissertation make a key contribution to practical and conceptual debates about rescaling by drawing connections between the reasons for, and implications of, rescaled water governance. In particular, the research suggests that the reasons for watersheds’ uptake do not align with the governance implications associated with their implementation.

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Putting the pieces together: tracing jurisdictional fragmentation in Ontario water governance (2012)

This socio-legal study of fragmentation in Ontario water governance is positionedat the nexus of governance studies and the study of water management.It investigates the legal institutions that contribute to fragmentationin water governance, the associated governance patterns, and the consequencesfor Ontario water management. This is highly relevant in the Canadiancontext because jurisdictional fragmentation is frequently cited as a keybarrier to improved water management outcomes.Three questions guided this research: (1) How did legal institutions createconditions in which governance is more or less fragmented? (2) How doesfragmentation occur? (3) Is fragmentation a problem?To answer these questions the dissertation undertakes a comprehensive,but focused, historical review of water governance in Ontario from Confederationto 2010. The dissertation relies on four sources of data: a review offederal and provincial government documents in Canada; engagement withthe academic literature, jurisprudence (Canada, UK, and USA); and dataderived from thirty-three interviews and direct observation at four academicand professional water policy conferences.The dissertation makes three key findings. First, legal institutions aresources of jurisdictional fragmentation, creating conditions in which watergovernance can be more or less fragmented. Second, the dissertation findsjurisdictional fragmentation is associated with a variety of governance patterns.Finally, it finds the water governance and management literaturehas not been sufficiently critical of the fragmentation-integration challenge,too frequently framing integration as a solution without its own challenges.Fragmentation may or may not be a problem depending on the context; theconsequences of fragmentation are variable. These findings are importantfor moving policy forward. Jurisdictional fragmentation is a key feature ofCanadian governance as well as an important feature of governance initiativesthat seek to engage stakeholders in place-specific management solutions.

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Navigating bordered geographies : water governance along the Canada - United States border (2009)

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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Relations of power, networks of water : governing urban waters, spaces, and populations in (post)colonial Jakarta (2008)

This thesis documents the genealogy of the development of Jakarta’s urban water supply infrastructure from 1873 (the inception of the first colonial water supply network) to the present. Using an analytical framework of governmentality, supplemented by insights from postcolonial studies and political ecology, the thesis explains the highly unequal patterns of water access in Jakarta as the product of (post)colonial governmentalities, whose relations of power are expressed not only through discursive categories and socio-economic relations, but also through material infrastructures and urban spaces. The thesis presents material from the colonial archives, Jakarta’s municipal archives, and the publications of international development agencies and engineering consultancy firms. This is combined with primary data derived from interviews, questionnaires, and participant observation of the implementation of current pro-poor water supply projects in Jakarta. This data is used to document how water supply is implicated in the discursive and material production of the city and its citizens, and to challenge conventional developmentalist and academic analyses of water supply access. Specifically, a conceptual triad of water, space, and populations – produced through, but also productive of government rationalities – is used to explain two apparent paradoxes: (1) the fragmentation of access in Jakarta despite a century of concerted attempts to develop a centralized system; and (2) the preferences of lower-income households for non-networked water supply, despite its higher cost per unit volume. This analysis hinges on an elucidation of the relationships between urban governance and urban infrastructure, which documents the interrelated process of differentiation of types of water supply, water use practices, populations, and urban spaces from the colonial period to the present. This, in turn, is used to explain the barriers being encountered in current pro-poor water supply development projects in Jakarta. The thesis thus makes a contribution to current academic debates over the ‘colonial present’. The contribution is both theoretical – in the emphasis placed upon the materiality of governmentality – and empirical. Finally, the thesis also makes a contribution to the urban and development studies literatures through its reinterpretation of the urban ‘water crisis’.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Social and Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Development and Public Support for Fracking in China (2016)

The debates on the environmental impacts of shale gas development remain highly contested in recent years. The environmental uncertainty has led to growing opposition to shale gas development in numerous Western democratic countries. Understanding the social perceptions of the impacts of shale gas development is important as it affects public attitudes toward the development. There is, however, scarce data on the public perceptions of shale gas developments in non-democratic countries that are experiencing rapid shale gas development, such as China, the case study for this study. I draw on fieldwork conducted during August 2015 in Chongqing and Sichuan province, where the most active shale gas development in China is currently ongoing, to examine residents’ perceptions of the impacts of the shale gas development, and to analyze how the political system affects these public perceptions. The results indicate that people in China support shale gas development in spite of the serious environmental problems they experienced for two prominent reasons: economic incentives and political pressure. Thus, this research has uncovered a gamut of positions, and a spectrum of economic and political motivations, underlying the Chinese people’s support for shale gas development.

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How much for Old Chico? : water governance and the cobrança in the São Francisco River Basin (2012)

This thesis analyzes the governance patterns and power configurations that both shape and are shaped by basin-level water governance as it has been applied in Brazil's São Francisco River Basin. Specifically, it focuses on bulk water charges (the cobrança) and the re-scaled, decentralized, and participatory governance space of the São Francisco River Basin Committee (CBHSF) and articulates this empirical analysis with debates around the neoliberalization of nature and the state-society relationship in Brazil. Using data obtained through informal interviews and participant observation over three months during 2011, this thesis suggests that traditional governance patterns -- especially patron-client relationships, the threat of force, and pharaonic development schemes -- continue to dominate water-related decision making in the basin. Although CBHSF has at times been a space of socioenvironmental resistance, the committee continues to be embroiled in an "existential" struggle between partisan and personalistic aims of "the government" and civil society's desire to foster a committee capable of working with(in) a responsive state. The cobrança, rather than privileging "economic rationalities," has been one of the political tools employed in this ongoing struggle. The cobrança is an example, furthermore, of how the saturation of governance with certain political logics has shaped -- and limited -- neoliberalization in the São Francisco River Basin. This context challenges institutionalization-centred analyses of neoliberalization; however, a socionatures frame provides a means for close engagement with neoliberalizing processes "on the ground" and for accessing the ways in which concomitant governance patterns can complement, contest, or even subsume neoliberalizing processes.

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Post-neoliberal nature? Community water governance in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia (2012)

Since the turn of the century, Bolivia has been undergoing a leftward political shift that many scholars have described as “post-neoliberal.” This shift is inflected with communitarian and ecological sensibilities, and politicians frequently depict “community” and “nature” as two axes around which a new, post-neoliberal world order can be imagined. The overarching purpose of this thesis is to explore the friction between the country’s putatively post-neoliberal politics and existing community water governance in Cochabamba, Bolivia. This is pursued through two sub-themes: a comparison of the government’s post-neoliberal rhetoric to its resource management policies; and a comparison of celebratory conceptualizations of community governance to the governance strategies of community-run water systems in La Maica, a region of peri-urban Cochabamba. The thesis argues that, while the Morales government rhetorically celebrates “community” and “nature” as essential pillars of post-neoliberal governance paradigm, reality differs from rhetoric in two ways. First, the Bolivian government’s natural resource agenda has involved a shift towards centralized, state-led management, rather than community governance. Second, actually existing examples of community resource governance are intertwined with non-community institutions and multiple scales of governance, implying that communities are contextually embedded and hybridized structures. The progressive (post-neoliberal) potential of community resource governance therefore depends on both its context-specific manifestation and the support that it receives from the state. Primary data for this thesis was gathered during four months of fieldwork in Cochabamba (June to October 2011), and the four methods employed were expert interviews, interviews with community leaders in La Maica, water user surveys in La Maica, and document analysis.

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