(January 2010) Beyond Nature and Culture: A Methodological Reflection for Urban Wastewater Research

Beyond Nature and Culture: A Methodological Reflection for Urban Wastewater Research image
What do we need to know about water? Is it the substantive questions like which pollutants in water potentially harm human body? What about conceptual ones like what is the standard quality of water or who is the water consumers? Further, are we talking about water in a neighbourhood, or in one municipality, or we refer to the whole river basin system across political borders? All above questions are possible ones to set in order to understand the water sector, but there are a lot more others questions. Perhaps we have agreed that there are high numbers of people unsatisfied with the quantity and quality of the water they use, that the cities in the Global South are suffering with decreasing environment quality, or bad sanitation has killed children and mothers. But we have not agreed how to make our life better. We have even not ‘agreed' who has the responsible for polluting the river or making the price of water unreachable for those living on the river banks. In order to work on consensus to alleviate the problems, we first need to re-define and understand the problems. We need good explanations of the phenomena and for this we need conceptual frameworks.

This paper seeks a comprehensive methodology to examine problems in urban water sector, especially in the Global South. Although aiming to focusing on wastewater, as wastewater gains less attention compare to clean water provision, this paper unfolds multidimensional characters of water sector within the ‘whole' cycle. Accompanied by a review on some relevant approaches in water sector research, this piece of work uses the demand side (consumers) as the main entry to understand the complexities of water sector. Water-consuming activity is both ‘end' and ‘beginning'; it is the use of (clean) water and the production of sewage. This paper is developed on the very basic argument that ‘clean' or ‘dirty' are meanings given by subjects to the material object: water. Locating the consuming activity within the context of social reproduction, we would be able to examine water, the socio-natural thing, as a material object and as a concept-dependent function in the same time.

Started with an illustration of the multidimensionality of water sector, this paper does not point some theories and unfold them deeply. Instead, in the second part, this paper will position what theories are relevant as foundation for waste water research. Argued in this paper, it is important to re-look at the origin of the modern city in order to critically ‘accept' its socio-technological model of water-related infrastructures, which has been taken for granted in the Global South. Today-debate follows these two parts before switch into the last part that is an approach for empirical research methodology.


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Beyond Nature and Culture: A Methodological Reflection for Urban Wastewater Research by Prathiwi Putri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Belgium License.