Geography ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-15-2019


Making water management decisions is often where dreams and visions about potential futures are constructed and contested (Swengedouw 2015). However, in a globalized world, it is not well understood how people can challenge dominant paradigms to shape desirable futures when they are also complicit in, and dependent on existing structures (Arts & Buizer 2009; Emery, Perks, & Bracken 2013: Kleinschmit, Böcher, & Giessen 2009). This project examines a brewery conflict in the Mexicali Valley that provides an example of how protesters were able to challenge dominant assumptions about water management in a complex, globalized environment. I draw on Laclau’s (2005) theory of empty signifiers and perform a narrative analysis to analyze the conflict. I also use historical analysis and interviews to support my claims. I argue that water was used as an empty signifier, a flexible symbol that enables various non-traditional alliances to collectively resist in the face of a recent history of undermined collective agency. Protesters used an alternative narrative, I term the defense of water, to gain political traction and challenge the dominant narrative. Somewhat paradoxically, this narrative obscured a primary driver of water scarcity, agricultural use practices, even though addressing water scarcity is a goal of the protesters. This paper discusses the implications for material-symbolic relationships with water in the Mexicali Valley.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Benjamin P. Warner

Second Committee Member

Ronda Brulotte

Third Committee Member

Chris Duvall

Document Type





Water Governance, Mexicali Valley, Constellation Brands Conflict, Empty Signifier, Water Protests