Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global and Sociocultural Studies

First Advisor's Name

Juliet Erazo

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Kevin Grove

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Dennis Wiedman

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Elizabeth Anderson

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


water governance, indigenous, Wayuu, hydrosocial relations, political ecology, relational ontology, La Guajira, Colombia

Date of Defense



The dissertation problematizes the supremacy of a global water management regime while discerning and defending local Wayuu hydrosocial relations. The Wayuu relationship with water—considered non-conventional, unsanitary or insecure according to hegemonic Western standards—can also be characterized positively as alternative, resilient, sustainable, adaptive and exceptional. Contemporary water governance presents challenges yet also opportunities for the Wayuu and other Indigenous peoples to (re)assert and (re)establish contextualized and culturally specific practices, traditions and ways of knowing that have been historically silenced by conventional water management.

The Wayuu territory, located on the semi-arid Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia, is widely considered a region suffering from chronic food and water insecurity, aggravated by climate change and exacerbated by widespread corruption and political instability. In response, a conventional approach presumes that the Wayuu are in urgent need of assistance and the solution to the water problem lies in installing waterworks; instructing the Wayuu in acceptable water, sanitation and hygiene behaviors; and instilling good water governance practices. I argue that this common discourse is a representation of reality that uses epistemological assumptions, vested authority, rhetoric and specialized terminology to present a dominant —yet deceptive and partial—depiction of Wayuu–water relations.

While some resource management experts are confident that integration is possible between Indigenous and Western knowledge systems, critical social scientists from political ecology and ontological anthropology find bridging initiatives problematic. While political ecology emphasizes the politics and contested nature of water accessibility between different social actors, ontological anthropology underscores the deep ontological divide that impedes mutual understanding and integration of water knowledge systems. Informed by the debates in these fields, I use ethnographic evidence from over 80 Wayuu communities, including survey data, mapping, semi-structured interviews, participant observation and discourse analysis, to explore the (in)commensurability between “non-conventional” Wayuu hydrosocial relations and the dominant conventional water management regime. The dissertation research found that a generalized pattern of failed or faulty water development projects throughout Wayuu territory meant to increase water security often produce water insecurity and increased vulnerability, further exacerbating the precarity caused by anthropogenic climatic change.






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