My latest paper – Modern water ethics: implications for shared governance

My latest paper has just come out in the journal Environmental Values, co-written with Dan Shrubsole: “Modern water ethics: implications for shared governance – full reference here or on my ‘publications’ page.

This essay formed the literature review for my dissertation so, as you might expect, it has a lot of references to the literature on water ethics. Some recent ones are missing, since the piece was submitted in 2011.

Here is the editor’s intro to the essay followed by the abstract. If you’d like a copy of this paper (or any of my papers) I’d be happy to send one.

“Schmidt and Shrubsole (2013) argue that the early creators of United States’ water policy saw their policies as an expression of the success of European civilisation. On this view, U.S. utilitarian approaches to water policy should not be seen as attempts to be ‘value neutral’, but rather as attempts to promote a certain set of ethnocentric values.

This opens up the possibility of thinking about water policy in terms of the substantive communal and cultural values that it expresses, a development that would be welcome by those who oppose the spread of U.S. approaches to water policy outside of the U.S.” – Katie McShane

It has been suggested that water and social values were divorced in modernity. This paper argues otherwise. First, it demonstrates the historical link between ethics and politics using the case of American water governance. It engages theories regarding state-centric water planning under ‘high modernism’ and the claim that water was seen as a neutral resource that could be objectively governed. By developing an alternate view from the writings of early American water leaders, J.W. Powell and W.J. McGee, the paper offers a way to understand the project of state-centred governance without the claim that water falls to the latter half of a society/nature dualism. Second, the paper reviews how the emerging ‘water ethics’ discourse helps organise both the ethical and legal norms at play within contemporary political shifts towards decentralised governance. The review identifies how McGee’s early influence may warrant more attention, both in terms of water governance and environmental ethics. The paper concludes by arguing that, given the arguments presented, success in decentralising water governance turns not only on political considerations, but also on fairly ordering normative claims as part of fostering and extending the reach of coordinated water governance.



  1. […] would have to defer on this to people like Jeremy J. Schmidt, who together with Dan Shrubsole just put out a paper on the ethics and the politics entailed in the words we use about water).  Think, for a moment, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: