Institutions and Time

In the lecture, we delve into the evolution of irrigation systems as a pivotal lesson in the development of institutions through various epochs. Drawing on the seminal works of Karl Wittfogel and Karl Marx, we initially explore the historical emergence of despotism and autocracy within hydraulic civilizations. Progressing beyond these foundational theories, the lecture navigates through the complexities of modern water and irrigation institutions, guided by Elinor Ostrom’s eight principles for managing the commons and other insights from New Institutional Economics, to unravel the political economy underpinning irrigation management. A significant portion of our discussion is dedicated to the Indus Basin, illustrating its role as a conduit for colonization and social engineering. Furthermore, this lecture addresses the pressing challenges of transboundary river management. Using the Indus and the Nile as case studies, we highlight the geopolitical tensions and cooperation mechanisms that have emerged in these contexts. By integrating these discussions, we aim to pave the way for envisioning participatory, resilient institutions capable of navigating the complexities of climate-stressed environments in the future.