New dimensions in water conservation : an inter-animation of writing and water

University of Technology, Sydney. Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences
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Water is a finite resource which is increasingly valued as a commodity. This thesis explores the use and appreciation of water, in the context of community response and exchange. Its focus is a community writing practice, and in particular a project entitled new dimensions in Water Conversation based in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. This project was a non-crisis driven investigation into a wide range of interests in water. The central proposition of the thesis is that techno-scientific and broader cultural world views on water rarely connect, and that bringing them together reveals awkward tensions between specialist and non-specialist standpoints. These disparities are shown in the group writings and outcome of the project, which bring water provision into closer perspective. A story emerges from the project and its influences. It is one of material relationships to water over testings, tastings and visits to a water treatment works. It suggests links which would not normally be anticipated, for example between a regional bulk water supplier and a group of water writers. The study combines fiction and contemplation with critical analysis and the thesis crosses disciplinary boundaries, drawing on insights from critical cultural theory and the philosophy of science. The writing is performative rather than accumulative in nature, yet is a concrete record of the interplay between water users and water specialists, in a local and global dimension which includes the Northern Rivers, Australia more generally and Varanasi in India. Using this transcultural approach, it decentres theory and locates value in the situated contexts and views of different stakeholders in water, which range from sacred values to indifference. The work calls out for a way of thinking about water that is not yet in the public discourse. Through the practical connection of the project with an Australian water instrumentality, it draws in developments in contemporary water management, and raises questions and doubts about how instrumentalist and market values have come to dominate imaginings of a global water future. At the same time it points to the importance of putting the values of the arts and humanities into practice in the increasingly inter-disciplinary environment in which the resource of water is managed and maintained.
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