Cindy McCulligh

Cindy McCulligh
Image Credit: © Cindy McCulligh

International Research Training Group "Between Spaces"

Movements, Actors and Representations of Globalisation

PhD Candidate

Field of Activity

Project: "Sewer of Progress, or why is the industrial pollution of the Santiago River between Ocotlán and El Salto, Mexico, not controlled?"


Since 2012

PhD studies in Social Science at the Center for Research and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology, CIESAS Occidente, Guadalajara, Mexico

1999 - 2001

Master's in Environmental Studies (MES), York University, Toronto, Canada

1993 - 1998

Honours Bachelor of Arts and Science (with distinction), McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada

Work experience

2010 - 2012

Consultant researcher for the Mexican Institute for Community Development (IMDEC, A.C.), responsible for the preparation of articles and reports on water privatization in Mexico, the Arcediano Dam and the industrial pollution of the Santiago River in Jalisco.

2010 - 2012

Environmental consultant (freelance) for Milepost Consulting, focused on the analysis of information on the environmental and social performance of agricultural companies.

2008 - 2009

Coordinator of the Professional Application Project: Community Development, Socially Applied Technology and Quality of Life, which sought to improve living conditions in the communities of El Salto and Juanacatlán, affected by the pollution of the Santiago River. Jesuit University of Guadalajara (ITESO)

2005 - 2008

Researcher and trainer in the Citizen Action and Participation Area of the Mexican Institute for Community Development (IMDEC), focused on water issues in the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area (GMA) related to water pollution, the construction of dams and community water management.

“Sewer of Progress, or why is the industrial pollution of the Santiago River between Ocotlán and El Salto, Mexico, not controlled?”

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Gerardo Bernache Pérez (CIESAS Occidente)

Between the communities of El Salto and Juanacatlán, in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, about thirty kilometers south of Guadalajara, a waterfall on the Santiago River was a tourist attraction known as the ‘Mexican Niagara’. Serious pollution of the river began in the early 1970s and by 2012, the waterfall found itself in a new niche tourism market as a stop on a “Toxic Tour”, part of a Greenpeace Mexico campaign. In the area between the birth of the river in Ocotlán and the waterfall in El Salto, this investigation seeks to probe why, after more than a decade of citizen pressure for river clean up, the river continues to be polluted by industrial effluent.

With a starting point in the case of the industrial pollution of the Santiago River, the investigation examines power relations in the formulation and application of environmental standards and policies in Mexico, from a political ecology and environmental justice framework. In the case of the Santiago River, as with many other water bodies in the country, severe pollution problems persist despite the demands of affected communities and the emergence of socio-environmental conflicts. In Mexico, environmental legislation and bureaucracy have been strengthened in the neoliberal era; however, the degradation of the countries’ waters, including the Santiago River, has continued. While companies in the industrial corridor along the Santiago adopt sustainability discourses and the Mexican government sets itself the goal of inclusive green growth, this project explores how the mechanisms governing the formulation and application of environmental regulations ensure the predominance of private interests. It argues that the non-application of this regulation constitutes a form of institutionalized corruption, which is not due solely to a lack of resources but to prevailing power relations.

This investigation focuses on three main aspects. First, on the analysis of government regulation of industrial activity in the research area. Second, on examining a group of companies, from the chemical, auto parts, electronics, metalworking, and food and beverages sectors, located in this area. Finally, the visions and strategies of key organizations from El Salto and Juanacatlán, the main site of the socio-environmental conflict over the river pollution, are considered.

Articles in Journals

Book chapters

  • (2012), with Tetreault, D., 'Panorama de conflictos socioambientales en Jalisco', in: Tetreault, D., Ochoa, H. and Hernández, E. (eds.), Conflictos Socioambientales y alternativas de la sociedad civil, ITESO: Tlaquepaque, p. 93-126.

  • (2012), with Tetreault, D. and Martínez, P. 'Conflicto y contaminación: El movimiento socio-ecológico en torno al río Santiago', in: Ochoa, H. and Büekner, H. (eds.), Gobernanza y Gestión del Agua en el Occidente de México: la metrópoli de Guadalajara, ITESO: Tlaquepaque, p. 129-172.

  • (2010), ‘El río Santiago en El Salto y Juanacatlán, Jalisco’, in: Peniche Camps, S. et al. (eds.), Primer seminario internacional sobre la cuenca del río Santiago, Universidad de Guadalajara: Guadalajara, p. 109-127.

  • (2010), with Tetreault, D. and Flores, R., ‘La exigibilidad de los derechos ambientales en México: el caso del Río Santiago’, in: Valencia, E. (ed.), Perspectivas del universalismo en México, Fundación Konrad Adenauer, Universidad de Guadalajara and ITESO: México and Guadalajara, p. 121-132.

  • (2009), 'Aguas Abajo: O respirar veneno en El Salto y Juanacatlán, Jalisco', in: Peniche, S. and Guzmán, M. (eds.), Estudios de la Cuenca del Río Santiago: Un enfoque multidisciplinario, Universidad de Guadalajara: Guadalajara, p. 59-72.

  • (2002), ‘Storying Re/search and Collaboration: Communication, Contradiction and Mexican Campesino Agriculture’, in Desfor, G., Barndt, D. and Rahder, B. (eds.), Just Doing It: Popular Collective Action in the Americas, Black Rose Books: Montreal, p.55-74.