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Research article2017Peer reviewed

Harnessing the State: Social Transformation, Infrastructural Development, and the Changing Governance of Water Systems in the Kangra District of the Indian Himalayas

Fischer, Harry W.


Despite a proliferation of programs and policies aimed at promoting local resource management, we still have limited knowledge of the conditions under which state interventions can be a supportive force in everyday aspects of common pool resource governance. This article explores growing state involvement in community-managed irrigation systems of the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, India. Here, agriculture is dependent on water channeled from glacial streams through networks of irrigation canals that have been sustained by local traditions of collective action for centuries. In recent years, however, growing off-farm employment has shifted the center of the agrarian economy and undermined shared norms of collective resource governance, just as state institutions have increasingly identified water systems as an object of development intervention. In this article, I document how irrigation management has been incrementally reinvented through changing institutional arrangements and new infrastructural forms over the past three decades, as existing patterns of collective action have increasingly found expression by leveraging development resources of the state. To the extent that socioeconomic changes associated with broader processes of development are likely to strain commons governance systems in mountain and other regions in the coming years, such collaborative engagements between local collective management and state support systems could become increasingly prevalent. This case suggests the need for new theoretical tools to guide analysis of evolving relationship between communities and state institutions in common pool resource governance.


common-pool water governance; decentralization; Himalayas; irrigation infrastructure; state

Published in

Annals of the American Association of Geographers
2017, Volume: 107, number: 2, pages: 480-489

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Anthropology
    Human Geography

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