When the River Doesn’t Reach the Sea
Environmental disputes over water often involve not only struggles over natural resources but other ideological and political conflicts as well.
Dr. Shaylih Muehlmann, Canada Research Chair in Language, Culture and the Environment, is analyzing how such conflicts are often as much about who gets access and rights to water as they are about struggles over class hierarchy, language politics and the definition of particular identity categories.
Muehlmann is examining water disputes in the region around the Colorado River in northern Mexico, which has historically been dominated by agriculture and fishing. The river used to run from the US Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, but in recent decades has rarely made it past the international border because of extensive overdevelopment upstream. Muehlmann is exploring distinct yet interrelated strategies that locals in the Colorado River Delta have used to respond to environmental displacement and state restrictions on their use of the river.
Environmental marginalization often obscures and reinforces other kinds of inequalities, such as gender, language and class hierarchies. At the same time, environmental conflict can become the catalyst by which these inequalities become visible and contested.
Muehlmann’s empirical analysis of environmental marginalization and structural violence on the United States-Mexico border will help shape a theoretical approach to the analysis of identity formation amid conflicts over such natural resources as water.