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waterscape benefits

The central research task of my PhD is to trace how benefits emerge within wastewaterscapes. This post will explain how I understand benefits.

A focus on benefits was nested in this research project from the initial proposal. This focus aligns with a discourse about multiple benefits; a key theme in the literature on Nature-Based Solutions. Benefits, in this context, are the positive outcomes that flow from socio-ecological processes. Benefits can accrue to both human and non-human beings. The argument is that, in contrast to more traditional grey infrastructure, infrastructure incorporating ecosystem processes can provide more than just one central function. I think that this is an interesting argument to interrogate. 

I am using the concept of a waterscape as this concept captures an important point about how social and ecological arrangements are shaped through water flows. The waterscape reflects the interplay of both material and representational processes. 

What does this mean for benefits? From my perspective, benefit creation can’t be understood as only a material process. Equally important are the processes of meaning making and the social imaginaries that decide which benefits are important and how these benefits are defined and measured. In other words, benefits don’t exist independently of the variety of social actors who create or recognise them. 

This perspective on benefits aligns with a social constructionist way of approaching environments, as is common in political ecology accounts. This approach suggests my research must be open to multiple ways that benefits can be understood. Rather than developing a definition of each benefit solely from literature, dictionaries or my own judgement (and then going out to measure these benefits), I believe these definitions need to be uncovered as part of the research process. Each benefit has its own champions and interested actors. Its own method, scientific practices, and relevant disciplines. Each benefit has its own discourses and entanglements with larger ideas.

In the next few I will describe the benefits that I am focusing my research on, and how I have come to understand them. These descriptions are the result of several visits to each site, conversations with local people, and engagement with the documentation and discussions around each project.