How evernote can help you with your literature review

The Thesis Whisperer

This post is by Alyssa Bernstein, a PhD Candidate at the School of Law at the Queen’s University of Belfast. Alyssa also freelances as a writer, translator, and developer, and likes making things more efficient. This post outlines her writing process and has some interesting tips for people like me, who like to use technology to ease the writing pain...

I try to get my PhD work done as quickly, or rather as efficiently, as possible. I’d much rather be having a pint than reading Deleuze. So I put effort in at the front end of my writing process, while I was beginning to put together my literature review, to create a speedy and reliable work flow. I use 3 excellent pieces of software to minimize the amount of time I spend re-reading books, hunting for forgotten citations, and hunched over a computer screen.

Here are the highlights of my…

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Return of the Research Question…

Since my last iteration of the research question, there has been an important shift in focus. For the last year i’ve held the focus on the urban/city. But, this focus on urban water needs and how they are reflected in transboundary water governance processes was limiting my possible case study selection needlessly. Instead, OMB suggested I  broaden out my focus to look at ‘local actors’. In this way, I am more free to define a local actor depending on the basin I look at. For instance, if I study the Columbia basin, the local actor may be very different than if I look at the Stikine or the Orange. Irrespective, it is the influence of a local actor on governance processes that I am most interested in.

So, considering the importance of including local actors in governance processes, I will explore the following overarching questions:

are local actors influencing and shaping transboundary water governance processes? If so, in what way is this occurring? And, how can we come to understand the influence and role of local actors in transboundary water governance processes?

In addressing these questions, the study will achieve the following objectives:

1) examine whether existing evidence indicates that local actors are engaging as formal/informal actors in transboundary water governance in a range of watersheds, and if so,
2) understand the range and scope of activities that local actors undertake to attempt to have influence (if any) on institutions and processes designed to govern an international river,
3) understand the perceptions local actors have about their influence on governance processes (do local actors perceive their influence to be effective),
4) explore how the engagement of local actors in water governance contributes to re-conceptualizing decision-making processes in border regions,
5) articulate how the cases present insight into relevant policy development for transboundary water governance and the role of local actors.

The purpose of this project is to better understand these dynamics and the role local actors play in and exhibit influence on governance of transboundary water resources.

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Post Comps Slump

Preparing for my comps was perhaps the most intense activity i’ve done to date. While I was a tree planter, people liked to say that it was “80% mental, 20% physical”. I’d liken this to academia as well, and especially to how I felt during my comps. It took a lot of prep, planning, and work, but most of that was mental, involving talking yourself into doing the work. Physically writing the papers, or taking notes, was the 20%.

And, like many activities that you train, prepare, and plan for for such a long time, the day of reckoning comes and goes with dizzying speed. One day, im grinding my way through endless articles and bouts of self-doubt that i’ll actually survive the comps process, and the next im a PhD candidate. A great achievement, yes, but also quite anti-climatic. And, so having gone through such an intense 8 months leading up to the end of 2014, I am now solidly and despairingly in the depths of a ‘post-comps slump’. Much like the solo sailors who attempt the Vendee Globe and who must contend with the windless days in the doldrums of the mid-Atlantic , I feel listless, waiting for the wind to pick up again, and give me direction.

Melissa Pierce writes in Forbes (2012) that when we find ourselves in a slump (which happens to everyone, especially after a big life event, see: comps defence!), we must be patient. But, she is clear in making the distinction between patience and idleness. Patience, Pierce writes, “is steadfastness and self-control in the face of provocation and delay”. No where is patience about sitting on your hands, waiting for the storm to blow over. She urges those in a slump to be patient, but to do something. Cut out distractions, simplify, and reaffirm your self-confidence that doing something will eventually lead you out of the doldrums and back into the race. For me, writing in this blog is my first crack at 1) recognizing im deep in a slump, and 2) trying to do something, as opposed to nothing.

Deadlines loom, and distraction is around every corner. But, taking a moment to step back, breath, be mindful of the state im in, and being okay with it, I believe is a solid first step at doing something. I’ve been in academia for the majority of my life so far, and slumps are par for the course. But, what we do when we are in slumps is key to staying sane, and not beating up too much on ourselves. Navigating these slumps defines us. Its easy to surf the waves when the wind blows right, but navigating your mental state, confronting the anguish that comes with feeling like you are not progressing, or contributing, or meeting expectations, is perhaps the real challenge. One must avoid capsizing at all costs, even if it means cutting sail, and drifting for a little longer than you might like. At least you’ll still be in the race once you find your bearing and strength to get back into the game.

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How can you treat your PhD like a project?

A good reminder

The Thesis Whisperer

Fiona Saunders is a Senior Lecturer in the Management of Engineering Projects at The University of Manchester and a part-time PhD student. Her research interests are in the management of projects in safety-critical industries. Prior to academia, Fiona enjoyed a successful 15 year industry career in project management. Fiona blogs at where the original version of the post was published, along with a follow up post.

Long before I threw caution to the wind and (as a mum with 2 small children) began my part-time PhD my Professor (@AndrewWGale) gave me a very wise piece of advice Don’t be afraid of a PhD, it’s really just a project”. Now that I am entering the 3rd year of my part-time PhD I want to reflect on the similarities between a PhD and a project and offer some tips on how to use the tools and techniques of project…

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McNally, A., Magee, D., & Wolf, A. (2009). Hydropower and sustainability: resilience and vulnerability in China’s powersheds. Journal of Environmental Management, 90 Suppl 3, S286–93.

This article explores the application of resilience and vulnerability concepts to water resources management institutions in China, with a focus on large-scale hydropower development projects. The framework of a ‘powershed’ (Mcgee 2006) is used to geographically frame the regions that politically and economically benefit from the energy produced, as well as to assess the basin that is being socio-ecologically impacted (287). Using a powershed as a framework of analysis allows the researchers and audience to explore not just the physical structure of the dam as the point of analysis, but those regions also affected (positively and negatively), as well as the relations between actors being affected by the dam (the politics of cooperation and conflict) (287).

This narrative on conflict and cooperation crosses with the literature on the importance of institutions to shared river basins. The authors argue that “positive political relations and institutional agreements among political entities decrease the likelihood of conflicts” (287) and especially in relation to dam development on a shared river, which, if built unilaterally, holds potential for increased contention between riparian states. As Wolf et al. (2003 cited in this article) argue, as the rate of change in a basin exceeds the ability of an institutional arrangement to absorb it, conflict will become more likely (287). Therefore, both the physical (i.e. increased floods and droughts) as well as the socio-economic environments change, the role of institutions as arbitrators of cooperation between riparian states becomes more pronounced, and indeed, critical. A failure of the institutions to absorb and adapt to such changes holds the potential for water conflict. River Basin Organizations (RBOs), technical working groups, treaties, information sharing are imperative to establishing a cooperative regime to address changes from floods and droughts (and other physical changes) on shared rivers.

This article argues the importance of institutions on rivers where hydropower-led development is occuring is two-fold. First, institutions are critical to addressing grievances or conflicts at the sub-national level that arise from development schemes that fail to take into consideration livelihoods and ecological demands on a river. Second, on a shared river, institutions can provide certainty to agreements (especially informal agreements) in situations where there is potential for rapid changes in the political relations between countries (290). In this sense, institutions can provide assurances to compliance of shared and agreed upon rules and procedures on the shared river. 

This article provided an interesting take on dam development in China, and the use of the framework of a powershed to explore how impacts and benefits from dam development extend beyond the physical infrastructure itself, but also encompasses recipients of the electricity (often urban centres far from the dam), but also those communities affected by the building of the dam who might have to relocate to new locations. 

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Vogel, E. (2012). Parcelling Out the Watershed: The Recurring Consequences of Organising Columbia River Management within a Basin-Based Territory. Water Alternatives, 5(1), 161–190.

Vogle’s account of watershed governance – its history and future – in the Columbia River provides a useful account of, first, the premise used for a reorganization of watershed management, and second, an application of this ideal conception of watershed governance to the Columbia River. 

Vogel argues that, in the literature on watershed governance, four premises are used to justify reorganization to the watershed scale. She says that the reasoning/justification for a reorganization follows a causal sequence of arguments that leads from 1) natural boundaries, 2) holistic spaces 3) holistic management 4) positive social, environmental, economic and democratic outcomes (164).

In more detail, each of these premises provide justification for watershed governance. Specifically,

Natural Boundaries: river basins and watersheds have natural (i.e. related to physical and biological processes that influence water flow, aquatic, riparian and floodplain ecologies, and river and watershed form and evolution) boundaries (165)

Holistic Spaces: watersheds seen as holistic in their flow, in the people and communities within watersheds, interconnections of aquatic and riparian ecosystems and populations, ability to bring people and communities together, and the ability to bring different jurisdictions and agencies to cooperate (165-166).

Holistic Management Practices: due to holistic nature of watersheds and river basins, management practices are considered holistic in their integration of goals and areas, in their benefits distribution, and in their decision making that produces balanced management.

Improved social, environmental and economic outcomes: these are the expected outcomes from all of the above.

Vogel goes on to apply these four assumptions to the Columbia River, and finds that over the years and up to present, there has been mixed results. She argues that, due to “continuing political and legal power wrought by institutions, representatives, and constituents of conventional governmental spaces”, watershed governance reorganization has resulted in natural and political boundaries that led to both holistic and divided spaces, which shaped management into the recurring pattern of ‘parcelling out the watershed’, resulting in deeply mixed social, environmental, economic, and democratic outcomes (169). 

Spaces are constructed. The meaning ascribed to them is a social, political, and economic construction. This is especially so in a transboundary water basin defined as a ‘region’ (Sneddon and Fox 2012).  According to her analysis and historical reading, Vogel argues the Columbia River basin is “a product of the politics of conventional jurisdictions and territories; the boundaries of the governance territory built around the Columbia basin have not actually conformed to the hydrological borders of the basin”…it [the basin] is fundamentally both a natural and a political space” (173, 175). If we consider the implications of this, we can see the power of politics, economics, and biophysical processes to collaboratively, though perhaps inequitably, imprint meaning on and define our geographical areas. 

In regards to the implementation of watershed governance, Vogel warns that challenges could still very well exist. Politics at multiple levels impacting on the basin could remain fragmented among “leaders, agencies courts, representatives and constituents of multiple jurisdictions” (182). However, be it as it may, the goal should be, at the last, to ensure that a level of communication is met which allows for coordination of activities within the basin, to ensure manager know where development is happening within the watershed, and policy makers understand the various processes at play on the ground. Perhaps, in this way, the goals of watershed governance can be met, at least in part.

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Kuenzer, C., Campbell, I., Roch, M., Leinenkugel, P., Tuan, V. Q., & Dech, S. (2012). Understanding the impact of hydropower developments in the context of upstream–downstream relations in the Mekong river basin. Sustainability Science, 8(4), 565–584.

This article provided an extensive review of hydropolitics in the Mekong River basin, along with geographical, hydrological, and socio-economic analysis of dam development along the Mekong and its tributaries. 

Most relevant to my own interests, and which relates to previous readings (notably Sneddon and Fox 2012) is the recognition by Kuenzer et al. of the influence of upstream development on downstream regions, either directly or indirectly. The authors discuss this “in the context of impacts on water flow and sediment availability, river-ecology and biodiversity, or in an economic context of navigability, electricity provision and monetary flow, not to mention the impact of hydro- power development on the geopolitical landscape of allies” (568). This aligns with the notion of a transboundary basin being defined through a variety of processes and actors are multiple scales (Sneddon and Fox 2012). The processes mentioned above are essentially those of economic, geopolitical, and environmental dynamics, which create and define a region.

Geopolitics of dam development and its perceived importance for basin development is paramount, especially as many downstream riparians eye Chinese development on the mainsteam of the Mekong. It appears to be a popular scapegoat, to blame water quality and quantity changes on the actions of the Chinese. Yet, as the authors point out, despite local opposition to upstream riparian dam development in many communities, it is often the national governments, companies and interest groups that either support the integration of the electricity grid, and therefore the development of river dams, or are engaged in building and operating dams on their own territory. 

Dam development in the Mekong basin has proceeded at seemingly breakneck speed, despite calls for greater degrees of ecological protection, and rural livelihood security. 

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Sneddon, C., & Fox, C. (2012). Water, Geopolitics, and Economic Development in the Conceptualization of a Region. Eurasian Geography and Economics, 53(1), 143–160

This article examines how water resources are defined in relation to geopolitical dynamics, state-level economic development planning, and environmental conflicts, in the Mekong region (143). The authors use the Mekong region to illustrate how regions are defined by transboundary water basins or other environmental features, as well as how such regions are framed in relation to these three dynamics – economic, geopolitical, and environmental. 

When designing effective governance processes, institutions, and policy that effectively balances development, social and ecological goals, it can be critical to understand the multiple ways that regions have been constructed (143). Though, it is important to understand that these framings of a region are often complementary, but also contradictory. The planned development of the Xayaburi dam illustrates how framings can be difficult to reconcile with one another.

The notion that ‘territory isn’t; it becomes’ is clearly at play in the Mekong region. The three ways the Mekong region has been defined – geopolitically, economically, and ecologically – sheds light on the multiple ways different scales of actors and stakeholders, as well as the discourses on water (as a development resource, or economic good, or environmental asset), seek to define the region. For instance, the way the Asian Development Bank defined the Mekong Region does not correspond to the spatial unit (ecological and hydrological boundaries) of the Mekong River watershed (144). The ADB’s defining of the region is thus a result of the geopolitical, economic, and biophysical networks and flows that interact to construct the region is a certain way (144).


The authors argue that human geographers must move beyond simply describing a region, towards a deeper understanding of what defines a region, and “explain the factors that create and sustain particular political, economic and cultural outcomes at particular times and in places that come to be comprehended as regions” (144). In a nutshell, we must understand the various ways that a region, territory, and place are defined, what has led to this framing of a region, and in what ways the “geologic, ecological, and hydrological processes” contribute to this framing (146).

Sneddon and Fox describe how the Mekong was a focal point for geopolitical processes during the Cold War, from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. More recently, they argue, the region has come to play a central role in contemporary geopolitics, built around the hegemonic position of China within the region (147). With their drive for greater development along the upper reaches of the Mekong, China holds great influence for how the region will be framed in the years ahead. Furlong (2006) speaks to this transformation of the Mekong, but from a slightly different perspective. Furlong also paints the Mekong as a focal point during the Cold War as a ‘front line’ between the world’s super powers, with a framing built on a hegemonic ideology of ‘securitization’. In contemporary times, however, the hegemonic ideology in the region is one of market liberalization, where the Mekong has become a ‘corridor of commerce’ (Furlong 2006, p. 443). From this perspective, the Mekong has been framed largely in a development and economic way, though undoubtedly, with geopolitics at play. This characterization, by both Furlong, and Sneddon and Fox illustrate the extent to which actions at various scales (global, regional) have been as instrumental in defining the region, as have – and perhaps more so- than local actors with limited influence and power.

The discussions on scale, framing, dam construction, and development of ‘regions’ as a place, is critical to reforming or designing governance approaches that find a balance between ecological resilience and integrity, with developmental processes that maintain livelihood security of a basin’s inhabitants. In this sense, the authors argue that a region can be defined in a plurality of ways, as opposed to only as a region of developmental (large scale) potential, as a battleground in geopolitics, or as an ecoregion that must be maintained at all costs.  


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Pahl-wostl, A. C., Gupta, J., & Petry, D. (2008). Governance and the Global Water System : A Theoretical Exploration. Global Governance, 14(4), 419–435.

The focus of this article is global water governance, as the most recent approach to addressing water issues. Previous approaches, including local, national, and basin scales have not been replaced, but are now joined by a global scale to water issues. These different scales of analysis can complement one another, and are not mutually exclusive. Different water issues must be dealt with at different levels (421).

The authors make a case for addressing water issues using a multi-level governance approach, arguing that the current challenges are too complex to simply address from one level, or perspective (i.e. local, or national, or basin). Issues are rapidly evolving, and a multiplicity of voices and approaches are needed to effectively tackle water challenges and their solutions. The issues are interlinked within a global water system, as should be approaches to address such issues. As the authors argue, “global mechanisms [to address water issues] must be incorporated in ways that are complementary to instruments applied at other levels” (422), highlighting the need for cross-level interactions to be taken into account, for instance, between issues of urbanization, local and global food production, and environmental and aquatic health.  

The authors provide four arguments for a global perspective on water issues. That is not to say that a global perspective is the only perspective – in fact, water issues often require multiple perspectives, each interconnected, to address the issue (using both a local perspective within the context of global issues, such as the problem of eutrophication – its a local issue, but a concern of global significance, as it is happening all over the world). 

The above part of the article provides good justification for why water, even though it is a local resource, needs to be addressed as a global issue. This may be helpful in my own framing of transnational water issues as more than just a regional issue. Though the problems may be illuminated locally, or within the basin, the issues are global in nature and have a global dynamic and imply “alarming global trends” (422).

There are a number of influencers of global water governance:

  • Tensions between globalization and regionalization
  • Dominance of centralization or decentralization
  • Diversity of formal and informal processes and outcomes
  • Influence of state versus nonstate actors and processes (424)

The article provides examples of institutions and organizations for each of these influencers, such as the UN Convention as a centralized, global governance arrangement that lacks broad involvement of stakeholder groups at different levels (425), or global agencies (UN Water) and regional organizations (EU Water Initiative), private (market actors) such as transnational water corporations, or global communities of water scientists and professionals. Largely, what this illustrates is the “diffuse, heterogeneous, and fragmented…number of top-down, bottom-up, network, and side-by-side governance elements that exist in parallel” (427). The authors characterize this as a ‘mobius web-type governance’.

The article goes on to describe four potential scenarios for the development of global water governance. These scenarios, which are generally in line with other projections of future global environmental governance, are illustrated in the following graph:

Four potential future scenarios for global water governance.

Four potential future scenarios for global water governance.

This article will be extremely useful as I develop my understanding around global governance, global water governance, and the mutliscale and polycentric understandings of addressing water issues. 

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Drieschova, A., Fischhendler, I., & Giordano, M. (2010). The role of uncertainties in the design of international water treaties: an historical perspective. Climatic Change, 105(3-4), 387–408

The concern for uncertainties in water treaties is the focus of this article, and whether uncertainty has been reflected in the language of treaties over shared water resources. The authors argue that the limits of certainty are being recognized. Crisis can often result from uncertainty, but it is the design of multiple uncertainties into treaties that is the answer to crisis.

Most interestingly, this article discusses two types of uncertainty affecting the need for water treaties, their design and eventual effectiveness (390). These are: Exogenous uncertainties, which includes two sub-types of uncertainties: Exogenous resource uncertainty (e.g. perceived uncertainties related to material nature of shared water resources) and exogenous background uncertainty (e.g. internal politics, international relations, and market fluctuations). 

And, there are induced endogenous uncertainties (e.g. uncertainties related to implementation of the treaty, or how data is collected and its validity, as well as uncertainty about treaty finances). 

These types of uncertainties can lead to overuse, degradation, inequitable distribution of the resource and even conflict (390) of a shared water resource. There are four strategies for addressing the exogenous uncertainties addressed above, and the endogenous uncertainties they create. The four strategies that can be employed in treaty design are: ignoring uncertainty, complete contracts approach, uncertainty minimization strategy, and open-ended strategy. Each of these has its merits (expect for , perhaps, ignoring uncertainty in language used). But, such strategies will be essential, considering the serious implications of exogenous uncertainties addressed in this article, as well as the challenges outlined by Ganoulis and Fried (2013), who provide an expansive account of the anthropogenic impacts to shared water resources, as well as the diversity of actors who must be part of decision-making processes over shared water resources. 

The authors find two trends in their study of uncertainty in treaties. First, “treaties have become more complex in their potential options for handling of uncertainty, which could suggest that there is a changing perception of risk and a higher appreciation of uncertainty in water negotiations” (403). Second, there is an “increasing  realization of the advantages of more open-ended strategies” (403).  

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