WATERLAT-GOBACIT aims to contribute towards moving forward the state of the art in the field that can be broadly defined as the political ecology of water. This is an innovative strategy given that traditionally water research has been the preserve of techno-scientific disciplines with scant contributions from the social sciences. More generally, the relative neglect of the ecological and environmental dimensions in the social sciences has been the object of an ongoing academic debate, and our work seeks to make a contribution to it by using water-related social processes as the main empirical reference.

Within the context provided by our intellectual interest in a historically-informed political ecology of water we want to focus on specific research problems that are of the highest relevance for the international community. In particular, our work assumes that the main obstacles for the achievement of the global development goals for the sustainability of water ecosystems and the reduction of water inequality and insecurity are neither physical-natural nor technical.

We do not play down the importance of the techno-scientific dimension in this field of activity, but our departing point is that the unsustainability of water ecosystems and water-related inequality and injustice are not the result of water scarcity, a shortage of scientific and technical knowledge, or the lack of technological solutions. To the contrary, we claim that the asymmetries characterizing the access to water-related goods and the suffering of water-related bads are primarily underpinned by socio-economic, political, cultural, and policy-institutional processes.

This reinforces the call for strategies that bring to the fore the social dimension in the analysis and in the search for solutions to these problems. Our network aims to make a substantial contribution towards advancing knowledge in this field that can produce rigorous explanations of the processes under study while also providing support for developing concrete public-policy proposals.

WATERLAT-GOBACIT’s programme has strategic significance both as an intellectual project as well as an initiative to support a more problem-oriented production of knowledge and institutional development. Although there is an increasing interest on environment-related (including water) research in the social sciences, the field is still underdeveloped. Given the crucial environmental challenges that we face (e.g. ranging from the need to tackle anthropogenic deforestation and desertification processes to abating the impact of preventable water-related diseases) the social sciences are called to have a central role in the production of knowledge about these processes and in the training of the scholars and experts required for the daunting tasks ahead.