NEWAVE e-Lecture Series: Critical Theory, Political Ecology and the study of Water Politics | Prof. Jan Selby

November 26, 2020, 14.00 - 14.35

Critical theory, political ecology and the study of water politics

This lecture will make the case for a critical theory- and political ecology-informed approach towards water politics. It will introduce the distinction between ‘critical’ and ‘positivist’ (or ‘problem-solving) theories, drawing upon the work of International Relations scholar Robert Cox and the earlier work of Max Horkheimer. It will consider how this distinction may be applied to water politics, and environmental politics more broadly, as well as the value of doing so. It will then introduce ‘political ecology’ as one type of critical theoretical approach. And it will illustrate the value of adopting a political ecology approach towards water issues through brief consideration of three issues: (1) the roots of the socio-ecological crisis in north-east Syria; (2) Israeli-Palestinian water inequalities; and at a different scale (3) the global trade in what is often called ‘virtual water’.


Cox R.W. (1981). Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory. Millennium - Journal of International Studies 1981; 10; 126. 

Selby, J .(2014). Positivist Climate Conflict Research: A Critique, Geopolitics, 19:4, 829-856. 

Selby, J .(2019). Climate change and the Syrian civil war, Part II: The Jazira’s agrarian crisis. Elsevier, Geoforum 101 (2019) 260-274


Prof. Jan Selby 

Jan Selby joined the University of Sheffield in June 2020 as Professor of Politics and International Relations. After completing a PhD in Sociology at the University of Lancaster (2002), Jan's first post was as a lecturer in Lancaster's Department of Politics and IR. After a short stint at Aberystwyth, he then moved to the Department of IR, University of Sussex, where he worked for 15 years (2005-20). He held several leadership positions at Sussex, including Head of Department (2007-09), Director of Research (2011-20), and Director of the cross-disciplinary Sussex Centre for Conflict and Security Research (2012-18). Professor Selby’s research and teaching focus on climate change, water and energy politics, though he also works periodically on themes in IR theory, and conflict, peacebuilding and development.

About the e-Lecture Series:

This online training module has the objective to engage the NEWAVESRs and the audience in different water governance perspectives. All lectures are open to the public upon registration.

Please register here

A participation certificate can be requested if attending at least 80% of the online public talks.

*All times are in CET (UTC+1)

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