In her new book Transboundary Water Politics in the Developing World, Naho Mirumachi presents a compelling constructivist framework for the study of international transboundary river basins. Going beyond the often-asked question of when and why riparian states cooperate (or do not), she argues for an analytical approach to riparian interaction as an evolving process characterized by the coexistence of conflict and cooperation. Such an approach, she claims, helps shed light on the complex realities of water resource management by taking a closer look at socio-political processes—that is, the politics—that surround the use and allocation of water in international river basins.

The main contribution of the first part of the book is the development of a conceptual framework called The Transboundary Waters Interaction NexuS (TWINS), designed to examine conflict and cooperation within one river basin contemporaneously and over a period of time. Through the introduction of TWINS, Mirumachi puts forward several important concepts for the study of hydropolitics in international river basins.

First, assuming that transboundary water interactions are in constant flux over time, she introduces the notion of conflict and cooperation intensity. The scale of conflict ranges from nonpoliticized to politicized, to “securitized/opportunitized,” to “violized” state interaction. Conflict is thus broadly defined as reflecting processes of increasing prioritization of issues on domestic political agendas that could result in a, so far nonexistent, possibility of acute militarized action. Mirumachi defines “cooperation” as a reflexive process in which, over time, norms and ideas come to be shared by riparian states, and introduces five levels of cooperation intensity: confrontation of the issue, ad-hoc joint action, common goal formation, common norm formation, and collective identity formation.

Second, she introduces the concept of hydrocracy to study transboundary water governance from the perspective of basin states’ elites. An analytical focus on elite decision-makers, she argues, helps unpack the “state” by analyzing how such decision-making processes reflect the political economy of water allocation and water use within and between riparian states.

Third, Mirumachi uses the concept of speech acts of the hydrocracy in her analysis. Powerful actors socially construct structures through which shared waters are managed and governed, and through which the identities and interests of such actors themselves change and develop over time. This is observable through assertive, directive, and commissive speech acts that constitute and change conflict and/or cooperation intensity interactions over time.

Fourth, pointing out that not all cooperation automatically provides equitable outcomes for all parties, she distinguishes between the material capabilities of a basin state’s hydrocracy and its discursive power. While material capabilities include a potential hydro-hegemon’s command and control over shared waters due to its superior riparian position, exploitation potential, and technological know-how, discursive power illustrates how the hydrocracy frames processes of persuasion, deliberation, and consent visible through speech acts. An analytical focus on both types of power helps analyze “how access and control over water resources are contested, negotiated and agreed” (51).

The second part of the book consists of three detailed case studies examining the discursive and material processes through which water becomes political in the Ganges River basin, the Orange-Senqu River basin, and the Mekong River basin. Despite a narrow focus on (mostly) bilateral riparian interactions—between India and Nepal, Lesotho and South Africa, and Thailand and Vietnam—the case study chapters are characterized by a high level of complexity and are, at least for the less informed reader, somewhat difficult to follow. Nevertheless, even readers without any prior knowledge about these river basins can appreciate how Mirumachi uses these chapters to further develop and highlight several of the book’s main arguments. Organizing her previously identified levels of conflict and cooperation intensities, she develops a five-by-four table as an analytical tool to trace riparian interactions over water across time. By illustrating how hydrocracies use speech acts to construct certain narratives around water, she demonstrates how power asymmetries among riparians can result in cooperative institutions that neglect issues of equity, how the hydrocracies’ national interests and hydro-hegemonic control often trump basin-wide and regional initiatives to enhance multilateral cooperation, how levels of conflict in the forms of politicization and securitization both coexist with different levels of cooperation, and how both cooperation and conflict levels are subject to change over time.

The TWINS framework is a useful analytical tool to examine and understand the complexities and nuances of transboundary water interaction, reminding the reader that river basin management is never apolitical. It offers multiple avenues for future studies that go beyond the scope of this book. First, Mirumachi’s focus on states’ elites is a useful analytical point of entry that helps illustrate her constructivist argument about the roles of both material and discursive power in water use, allocation, and management issues. Future studies could make use of the TWINS framework by focusing on alternative actors involved in and affected by decision-making processes concerning water. Second, as Mirumachi shows, the concept of discursive power is exceptionally well-suited to examining how actors frame, politicize, and securitize issues around water. The book’s approach could be useful in exploring where, when, and why certain narratives become dominant while others remain—or are deliberately made to stay—silent. Third, the potential of the TWINS framework for multiscalar analysis also deserves further attention. It could be fruitful to extend the scope of analysis from bilateral interaction between riparian hydrocracies to multilateral relations. This expansion could include, for example, local communities, civil society representatives, and the private sector, and thus allow for further examination of Mirumachi’s argument on the coexistence of conflict and cooperation in international transboundary river basins in both the developing and the developed world.