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Drought is normal: the socio-technical evolution of drought and water demand in England and Wales, 1893–2006

Taylor, Vanessa and Chappells, Heather and Medd, Will and Trentmann, Frank (2009) Drought is normal: the socio-technical evolution of drought and water demand in England and Wales, 1893–2006. Journal of Historical Geography, 35 (3). pp. 568-591. ISSN 0305-7488

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Abstract

Water stress is becoming a permanent feature of life in Britain and other developed societies, and attempts to change ‘consumer behaviour’ are at the forefront of strategies for sustainability. This paper combines historical, geographical and sociological perspectives on the evolution of drought and water demand in modern England and Wales. Droughts have natural properties but their course, size and distribution is also the result of an interplay between governance, social norms and everyday practices. Focusing on seven significant droughts between 1893 and 2006, this article traces changing understandings of ‘normal’ water consumption and ‘rational’ demand and relates them to the evolving socio-technical management of water and identities of ‘the consumer’. We challenge the idea of a watershed between private supply (associated with passive ‘customers’) and public ownership (associated with active ‘citizens’). While private systems facilitated self-organised civic action more easily than public supply, the ideal of a citizen-contract blinded systems of public provision to the problem of expanding water use. An interdisciplinary analysis of droughts in the past offers lessons for the debate about sustainable consumption today.

Item Type: Article
Journal or Publication Title: Journal of Historical Geography
Uncontrolled Keywords: drought ; demand ; consumers ; water provision ; consumption ; sustainability ; life-style change ; socio-technical systems
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Departments: Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
Faculty of Science and Technology > Lancaster Environment Centre
ID Code: 34404
Deposited By: Dr Will Medd
Deposited On: 26 Oct 2010 11:34
Refereed?: Yes
Published?: Published
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2013 20:24
Identification Number:
URI: http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/34404

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