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The Politics of Scale, Position, and Place in the Governance of Water Resources in the Mekong Region

Louis Lebel, USER, Chiang Mai University
Po Garden, USER, Chiang Mai University
Masao Imamura, USER, Chiang Mai University


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The appropriate scales for science, management, and decision making cannot be unambiguously derived from physical characteristics of water resources. Scales are a joint product of social and biophysical processes. The politics-of-scale metaphor has been helpful in drawing attention to the ways in which scale choices are constrained overtly by politics, and more subtly by choices of technologies, institutional designs, and measurements. In doing so, however, the scale metaphor has been stretched to cover a lot of different spatial relationships. In this paper, we argue that there are benefits to understanding—and actions to distinguish—issues of scale from those of place and position. We illustrate our arguments with examples from the governance of water resources in the Mekong region, where key scientific information is often limited to a few sources. Acknowledging how actors’ interests fit along various spatial, temporal, jurisdictional, and other social scales helps make the case for innovative and more inclusive means for bringing multi-level interests to a common forum. Deliberation can provide a check on the extent of shared understanding and key uncertainties.

Key words

governance; institutions; knowledge; Mekong; politics; scale; science; water resources

Copyright © 2005 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087