Publication Details

Waitt, G. (2018). Ethnic diversity, scarcity and drinking water: a provocation to rethink provisioning metropolitan mains water. Australian Geographer, 49 (2), 273-290.


Urban water scarcity in south-east Australia forces us to engage with how our present centralised public utilities are embedded in our everyday lives, amidst uncertain futures. In the last decades, socio-technical approaches have illustrated how the myth of endless main water supply is made possible by cultures of engineering and plumbing. To extend debates about the cultural dimensions of environmental sustainability, this paper takes an ethnographic approach to understand the processes by which Burmese refugees and migrants who lived with water scarcity pre-migration make water potable post-migration to Australia. With a focus on mapping the material, discursive, spatial and emotional relations that enable the provisioning of potable water, the paper brings into conversation Elizabeth Shove's social practice theory with Elspeth Probyn's emplaced formulation of subjectivity. The adaptive provisioning capacities of people whose lives are immersed in cultures of water scarcity point towards a politics and relational ethics of care underpinned by provisioning and first-person contact. To conclude, these grounded Burmese examples provide an opportunity to employ scenario thinking to imagine alternative drinking water futures for south-east Australian cities.

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