Borders as places of cooperation and reconciliation

Published On: July 20th, 2021

The POLIS team is pleased to have welcomed Benjamin Perrier as a postdoctoral researcher over the past year, where his work is focusing on transnational law and transboundary watershed governance between Canada and the United States. This research is being done in partnership with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies, and advances the work of POLIS, the Water, Innovation, and Global Governance (WIGG) Lab, and the Borders in Globalization (BIG) research program.

Of the 310 transboundary water basins in the world, 20 are shared between Canada and the United States. To date, Ben’s work has focused on three as case studies: the Great Lakes basin, Yukon River basin, and Columbia River basin. But he also follows the evolution of the specific legal regimes of other international watersheds and the ongoing development of watershed governance in Canada.

“As water creates links between different countries, we must be able to think of these links in terms of cooperation, coordination, and co-governance,” said Ben. “The transnational governance of waters and transboundary basins may be one of the most promising ways to respond to ecosystemic logics and future challenges. Even if it requires constitutional, administrative, and diplomatic reforms.”

Since 2018, Ben has worked as a scientific research collaborator at the Borders in Globalization program, where he has been developing research on new ways of thinking about the legal construction of international borders. In his research role with POLIS, Ben is asking: How, and to what extent, can the governance of transboundary watersheds be improved? Is international water law sufficient and effective? Can the dimension of transnational cooperation between non-state actors play a complementary role to the international approach? How are the relationships articulated?

Working within POLIS’ International and Transboundary Water Governance research area, he is exploring the legal challenges of transboundary water governance, with a focus on cooperation across international borders between multiple legal entities.

Ben’s research explores what has worked, what has not worked, and what needs to change given the geographical and local context of each of these watersheds. He is also researching overarching trends that can be applied in other transboundary systems to move towards a more de-centralized and cooperative governance approach.

Ben sees the notion of governance as the question of a collective and decentralized function of regulation and decision-making between several actors which leads to discussions, negotiations, choices and compromises in the normative and institutional choices. He sees law as a tool for regulating social interactions, as well as other tools to manage conflicts between water users and levels of government.

On June 9th, as part of the Global Talks series hosted by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies, Ben gave a presentation on understanding and improving transboundary water(shed) governance, focusing on his current research on the Columbia River Basin.

“Boundary and transboundary waters, as well as borders, can be places of cooperation and reconciliation,” said Ben. “I’m interested in looking for new pathways that can be more peaceful and better for waters and watersheds complex socio-ecosystems.”