J. Budds


  • 1.17 ZICER Building

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Personal profile


I hold a MA (Hons) in Hispanic Studies from the University of Glasgow, a MSc in Environmental Issues in Latin America from the University of London, and a DPhil in Geography from the University of Oxford. 

I joined UEA in 2013 with 18 years’ experience of academic and policy research, over five of which have been spent in South America (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru), including internships at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia (INPA) in Brazil and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL) in Chile, and a visiting fellowship at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) in Brazil.  I am fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, and both give guest lectures/seminars and publish my work in these languages where possible in order to reach Latin American audiences.  I also have field experience in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia.

Before joining UEA, I was an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow in Geography and Development Studies at the University of Manchester, and a Lecturer in the Geography Departments at the Open University and the University of Reading. 

Academic Background

Key Research Interests and Expertise

Located within the political ecology tradition, my research examines the relationship between economic change, environmental governance, and processes of development.  I explore how power relations produce and reproduce socio-ecological change in the Global South with implications for the lives, livelihoods, landscapes and identities of low-income and/or marginalised social groups. I’m interested in both the material and discursive dimensions of these dynamics, especially as they relate to processes and discourses of development, as well as how they operate over different spatial and temporal scales.

Much of this work has been pursued through a focus on the broadly-defined water sector in Latin America. My work has sought to reposition technical approaches to water issues as political, and to elucidate both the power relations bound up in patterns of water allocation and use, water infrastructure and technologies, water governance frameworks and debates, as well as how solutions envisaged as technical serve to sustain those same economic and political power structures. 

My work currently comprises three principal themes:

First, I have critically examined the application of ‘neoliberal’ strategies to water management and their implications for low-income groups and local ecologies. I have analysed urban water privatisation in the global South (with Gordon McGranahan from IDS), water rights markets in Chile, and payments for watershed services schemes in the Andean region. I have argued that these market-based approaches are promoted on the basis of more efficient resource management and benefits to the poor, yet in practice it is the poorest and most marginalised water users who are disadvantaged by these policies.  Work in this field continues primarily in relation to Chile's Water Code and its outcomes for water availability and distribution among fresh fruit producers in the La Ligua river basin, with particular references to the outcomes of drought and measures to address them. 

My research on water rights in the context of the avocado production in Chile has been featured by DanWatch, and Vogue magazine.

Second, I am interested in critical approaches to environmental knowledge that draw on debates around social nature from political ecology and science studies. My entry into this area has been through an analysis of the politics of hydrology and its application. I have extended this work to engage in developing, with Jamie Linton (Université de Limoges), the concept of the ‘hydrosocial cycle’ to think about how water embeds and reflects power relations, and how water and society shape and reshape each other over space and time. I have also worked on a critique of the society-nature dualism inherent within the dominant conceptualisation of ecosystem services, in collaboration with Margreet Zwarteveen (UNESCO-IHE).  Current work continues theorisation and application of the hydrosocial cycle, with Jamie Linton (Université de Limoges) and Alex Loftus (King's College London), and a critical and relational approach to water security with Wendy Jepson (Texas A&M University) and others. 

Third, I have examined the implications of the increased demand for water for expanding industries, and how these reshape modes of governance and local geographies.  I have examined this line of enquiry in relation to mineral extraction in the Andean region, focusing on the case of Peru. In Peru, meeting growing demand for water for mining is a key challenge and source of conflict, because natural supplies are limited, most existing resources are in use, and some local (Quechua and Aymara) people are strongly opposed to the use of water for mining. However, rather than regarding water solely as a resource that is an input to, or impacted by, mining, I have examined how the social relations of control over water in relation to mineral extraction are reshaping waterscapes in Peru, and in the Andean highlands in particular. Based on qualitative work in Lima and the arid far south of Peru, where several large copper mines are operating, starting production, or being planned, I have analysed how mining influences water (re)allocation and basin transfers, policy and governance arrangements, the construction of large infrastructure, and discourses about water use and management, but also the ways in which water has shaped debates and practices around mining in the country.  

In 2011, my research on water and mining in the Andes was featured in an edition of BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth programme, entitled ‘Gold of the Conquistadors’.

I have subsequently drawn on this appraoch to understand how the development of series of run-of-the-river dams in northern India influences water policy and governance in that country. 

Drawing on a five-year collaborative project around the potential for scaling-up adaptation to climate change in semi-arid zones, with a focus on East Africa, I am currently working on the politics of climate change adaptation in the Global South. 

Links to my PublonsGoogle Scholar, and ResearchGate profiles.

External research funding

UK Academies - FAPESP Visting Researcher Fellowship, Securing Water for São Paulo: Analyzing the Dynamics of Water Infrastructure and Governance in the Macrometropolis, Co-Investigator, Universidade de São Paulo, 2019.

British Council FAPESP Researcher Links Workshop, Urban Water Security in Brazil: From Infrastructure to Social Action, Co-PI, UEA, 2019. 

British Council Newton-Paulet Workshop Grant, Paleoclimate, Water Use and Environmental Phenomena in Ancient Peru and Their Contemporary Impacts, Co-Investigator, UEA, 2018-19.

British Academy Newton Fund Mobility Grant, Securing Water for Megacities: An Analysis of Water Governance and Scarcity in the São Paulo Metropolitan Region, Co-Investigator, Universidade Federal do ABC, 2015-17.

IDRC/DFID, Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia, Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions, Co-Investigator, University of Cape Town, 2014-18.

NWO/DFID, Collaboration or Conflict in Management of Climate Change, Hydropower Development in the Context of Climate Change: Exploring Conflicts and Fostering Collaboration across Scales and Boundaries in the Eastern Himalayas, Co-Investigator, Wageningen University, 2014-18.

NWO/DFID, Collaboration or Conflict in Management of Climate Change Programme, Proposal development workshop grant, Scalar Politics and Wicked Problems: How Climate Change Mediates Conflicts and Solidarities around Hydropower, Water and Development in the Eastern Himalayas, Co-Investigator, Wageningen University, 2012-13.

ESRC First Grant, The Political Ecology of Extractive Industries and Changing Waterscapes in the Andes, Principal Investigator, The Open University / University of Reading, 2010-12.

ESRC/NERC/DFID Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Programme, Partnership and Project Development Grant, Understanding and Managing Watershed Services in Andean and Amazonian Catchments, Lead Principal Investigator, The Open University and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2010-11.

ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Political Ecology of Water and Uneven Development in Latin America, University of Manchester, 2006.

ESRC/NERC PhD studentship, The Political Ecology of Water Privatisation in Latin America: Water Rights Markets in Chile, University of Oxford, 2001-2004. 

External Activities

Associate Editor, Journal of Latin American Geography

Editorial Advisory Board, Environment and Urbanization

Editorial Advisory Board, Ambiente e Sociedade

Review Editor, Frontiers in Water

Member of ESRC Peer Review College 

Advisory Board member, On Sustainability Research Network

International Advisory Board member, Water Security Hub (GCRF)

Project Steering Committee member, Household Water Insecurity Research Coordinating Network (NSF)

External assessor, Closing the Water Cycle Gap programme (Water JPI) 

External Examiner, MA International Development, Nottingham Trent University



Administrative Posts

Course Director, UEA MRes in Social Science Research Methods, 2020-

Member, DEV Diversity Committee, 2019-

Member, DEV Ethics Committee, 2019-

Member, DEV Extenuating Circumstances Committee, 2018-

Co-Director, DEV PhD Programme (PGR), 2014-18

Director, UEA Water Security Research Centre, 2014-17

Teaching Interests

My teaching centres on environment, development, and politics.  I convene the following modules:

  • Introduction to Human Geography (DEV-4007B)
  • Political Ecology (DEV-7033B)
  • MRes Dissertation (DEV-7054X)

I also teach parts of the following modules:

  • Latin American Development (DEV-5005B)
  • Politics, Policy and Practice (DEV-6011B)
  • Urban Geographies (DEV-6010B)
  • Contemporary Issues in Development Practice (DEV-7052B)

In addition, I lead a Short Course in Water Security for Professionals and Practitioners. 

Academic Background

The aim of my work is to understand how power relations shape, and become shaped by, the relationship between economic change, environmental governance, and social exclusion and inequality, in the Global South.  Much of my work has focused on the water sector, including water supply and sanitation, agriculture, mining, hydroelectric power, desalination, ecosystem services, and adaptation to climate change. 

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students with interests in one or more of the following: socio-ecological change, poverty and development, political ecology, water resources, extractive industries, hydroelectric power, urban informal settlements (especially water and sanitation), interdisciplinary social-natural science environmental studies, Latin America. 

Completed research students: 

Dr María Daniela Sánchez López, 'Mineral Extraction in a Plurinational State: Commodification and Resource Governance of the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia', PhD, UEA, 2013-17 (now research fellow at the University of Cambridge) 

Dr Jim McGinlay, ‘Policy and Practice in the Conservation of Floodplain Meadows in England’, Department of Environment, Earth and Ecosystems and Department of Geography, PhD, The Open University, 2009-13 (now research fellow at the University of Cambridge) 

Dr Jean Carlo Rodríguez de Francisco, ‘Power, Peasant Livelihoods and Payment for Watershed Environmental Services in the Andes’, Irrigation and Water Engineering Group, PhD, Wageningen University, 2009-13 (now researcher at the German Development Institute)

Dr Luis Paulo Batista da Silva, Hidropolítica Sul-americana e a Bacia do Prata: O Lugar das Sub-bacias em Zonas de Fronteria Internacional, Visiting PhD student from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, UEA, 2014-15 (now Assistant Professor in Geography, Universidade Federal da Bahia)

Dr Paroma Wagle, MRes Social Sciences: International Development, UEA, 2014-15 (went on to complete PhD at University of California-Irvine) 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 6 - Clean Water and Sanitation
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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