Frances Cleaver

Frances Cleaver is Professor of Political Ecology at Lancaster University. Her fellowship at the Montpellier Advanced Knowledge Institute on Transitions runs from 1 September 2023 to 30 June 2024.


Frances Cleaver, based at the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University (United Kingdom), specialises in political ecology. Her research focuses on natural resource governance, particularly in the context of water, land and forests, and local service delivery in sub-Saharan Africa. Her work focuses on understanding how institutions shape social and power dynamics while influencing access to resources, a concept she has coined as ‘institutional bricolage’.

Frances Cleaver’s professional career began in health service management in both the UK and Zimbabwe. This experience has given her valuable insights into the intricacies of sustainable service delivery. Over the years, she has shared her expertise with institutions such as the University of Bradford, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), King’s College London and the University of Sheffield. She has also held a visiting professorship at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU). 

Her interdisciplinary approach bridges critical social sciences and collaborates with experts in engineering, hydrology and ecology. Frances Cleaver’s research methodology combines ethnographic techniques with participatory action research, often in collaboration with local researchers, and emphasises the importance of long-term studies to generate valuable insights. 

Research interests :

  • Water governance
  • Bricolage
  • Interface bureaucrats

Project: How does change happen through bricolage? Transforming water governance, agricultural systems and rural livelihoods.

I will develop and enrich the concept of bricolage, by integrating institutional, ideational and technological dimensions. The enriched conceptualisation will be used to jointly review and compare selected long-term studies of water governance and agrarian change. This will generate insights into how local processes of bricolage, and the actions of interface bureaucrats acting as ‘bricoleurs’, can produce systemic change. Engaging with academic and non-academic project partners will strengthen a practical focus on identifying the potential for ‘facilitated bricolage’ – for nudging participatory water governance research and practice in more progressive and sustainable directions.

Why a fellowship in Montpellier?

The opportunity to work with a varied group of water researchers at the institute G-Eau in Montpellier is very promising to me. The work of colleagues there has promising synergies with my own – and interesting differences. Potential complementarities include a focus on governance, on participatory approaches, and on integrating social and physical /natural science insights Long-term studies of water governance/ agrarian change in North Africa (G-Eau) and Eastern/Southern Africa (my research) . My aim to bring our different experiences into productive dialogue to generate fresh insights. Merging our networks offers opportunities for extended dissemination of our research.

I am also interested in engaging with the work of other research centres at Montpellier expanding the possibilities for cross-fertilisation of ideas about society-environment dynamics.

Frances Cleaver is hosted by the G-Eau research unit in Montpellier.

Recent publications on Frances’ ORCID profile include: