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Water scarcity, social power and the production of an elite suburb: The political ecology of water in Matadepera, Catalonia

By Iago Otero, Giorgos Kallis, Raül Aguilar and Vicenç Ruiz

Abstract

This article investigates the history of land and water transformations in Matadepera, a wealthy suburb of metropolitan Barcelona. Analysis is informed by theories of political ecology and methods of environmental history; although very relevant, these have received relatively little attention within ecological economics. Empirical material includes communications from the City Archives of Matadepera (1919-1979), 17 interviews with locals born between 1913 and 1958, and an exhaustive review of grey historical literature. Existing water histories of Barcelona and its outskirts portray a battle against natural water scarcity, hard won by heroic engineers and politicians acting for the good of the community. Our research in Matadepera tells a very different story. We reveal the production of a highly uneven landscape and waterscape through fierce political and power struggles. The evolution of Matadepera from a small rural village to an elite suburb was anything but spontaneous or peaceful. It was a socio-environmental project well intended by landowning elites and heavily fought by others. The struggle for the control of water went hand in hand with the land and political struggles that culminated - and were violently resolved - in the Spanish Civil War. The displacement of the economic and environmental costs of water use from few to many continues to this day and is constitutive of Matadepera's uneven and unsustainable landscape. By unravelling the relations of power that are inscribed in the urbanization of nature (Swyngedouw, 2004), we question the perceived wisdoms of contemporary water policy debates, particularly the notion of a natural scarcity that merits a technical or economic response. We argue that the water question is fundamentally a political question of environmental justice; it is about negotiating alternative visions of the future and deciding whose visions will be produced.Water scarcity Political ecology Environmental history Environmental justice Suburbanization Barcelona

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