New articles: bottled water in Britain, the World Bank and ‘normal’ catchment management

Some interesting new articles on water recently appeared.

(1) The first will come as no big surprise to those who follow the saga of bottled water. It rehearses some of the facts, specifically in the British context, noting that the bottled water industry in that country alone produces 350 000 Tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

(2) The second is by Karen Bakker at UBC. It is in press at Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Here are the title and abstract:

Constructing ‘public’ water: the World Bank, urban water supply, and the biopolitics of development

Abstract. This paper presents a historical analysis of the evolution of the World Bank’s policies on urban water supply networks, from 1960 to the late 1980s. The analysis frames urban water supply as an attempt (contested and incomplete) to extend the biopolitical power of developmental states. I argue that the World Bank’s agenda was predicated on a set of contradictions (and an untenable public/private binary) that contributed to the emergence of ‘state failure’ arguments by the late 1980s. This perspective enables critical reflection on the historical origins of the concept of ‘state failure’, and on contemporary debates over urbanization, infrastructure, and development.

(3) The third is by Brian Cook at Melbourne, along with several co-authors. It is in press at Social Studies of Science. Here is the title and abstract.

The persistence of ‘normal’ catchment management despite the participatory turn: exploring the power effects of competing frames of reference

ABSTRACT: Presented as a panacea for the problems of environmental management, ‘participation’ conceals competing frames of meaning. ‘Ladders of participation’ explain insufficiently why public engagement is often limited to consultation, even within so-called higher level partnerships. To explain how participation is shaped to produce more or less symmetric exchanges in processes of deliberation, this article distinguishes between (1) discourses/practices, (2) frames and (3) power effects. This article’s empirical focus is the experience of participatory catchment organisations and their central but under-researched role in integrated catchment management. In addition to an analysis of policy statements and other relevant documents, this article draws on qualitative interview and participant-observation data gathered in an international participatory knowledge exchange that we facilitated among four participatory catchment organisations (and various other agencies). Results suggest that while statements about legislation promise symmetric engagements, the mechanics of legislation frame participation as asymmetric consultation. In their own arenas, participatory catchment organisations deploy participation within a framework of grassroots democracy, but when they engage in partnership with government, participation is reshaped by at least four competing frames: (1) representative democracy, which admits, yet captures, the public’s voice; (2) professionalisation, which can exclude framings that facilitate more symmetric engagement; (3) statutory requirements, which hybridise participatory catchment organisations to deliver government agendas and (4) evidence-based decision-making, which tends to maintain knowledge hierarchies. Nevertheless, participatory catchment organisations proved capable of reflecting on their capture. We thus conclude that the co-production of science and society, and the power effects of framing, must become explicit topics of discussion in processes of environmental policy deliberation for participation to result in more symmetric forms of public engagement.

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