Margreet Zwarteveen studies the problems surrounding the distribution of water, which centre on the question of what is equitable and fair. She is concerned both with looking at actual water distribution practices and with analysing the different ways in which water distribution can be regulated (technologies, institutional bodies) and understood (knowledge). Her work is based on an interdisciplinary approach that sees water distribution as a set of interactions between technology, nature and society.
The connecting thread in Zwarteveen's work is the relationship between power and water, with the power relations between men and women forming an explicit theme. Her current research focuses on the question of how redistributions of water within agriculture, and from agriculture to cities and industry, are effectuated and legitimised in policy and through knowledge. She also studies how water-conserving technologies (such as drip irrigation) fit together with, and lead to, the reconfiguration of water ownership. In her new position, Zwarteveen hopes to continue advancing her work in these areas, as well as to expand her research to investigate tensions between scientific knowledge and public water management policy, and particularly the issue of how to deal with complexity, uncertainties and risks.
Zwarteveen has worked at the Wageningen UR Centre for Water and Climate since 1998, and as associate professor since 2012. She is also coordinator of the Gender Studies programme at Wageningen UR. Zwarteveen is involved in various WOTRO Science for Global Development programmes at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), including 'The Globalisation of Water Struggles' and 'Hydropower Development in the Context of Climate Change: Exploring Conflicts and Fostering Cooperation across Scales and Boundaries in the Eastern Himalayas', and also coordinates the NWO's Drip Irrigation Realities in Perspective programme. As a scientific adviser, she has worked on various international water projects, including in South Asia (Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) and the Andes.