Toward a Conceptual Framework for a more Sustainable Water Ethic: Identifying the Ethical Underpinnings of Water Management

Justine Lacey (2009). Toward a Conceptual Framework for a more Sustainable Water Ethic: Identifying the Ethical Underpinnings of Water Management PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Systems, The University of Queensland.

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Author Justine Lacey
Thesis Title Toward a Conceptual Framework for a more Sustainable Water Ethic: Identifying the Ethical Underpinnings of Water Management
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Systems
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2009-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 269
Total colour pages 2
Total black and white pages 267
Subjects 05 Environmental Sciences
Abstract/Summary Water management has been described as one of the major natural resource management challenges facing our rural industries, regional communities, our unique natural environments and indeed, even our survival. Within this context, water ethics has emerged as a research area of some significance. However to date, a majority of the research has clustered around economic and environmental concerns. For the most part, explorations into the ethical management of water have been limited to a deliberative focus on the establishment of property rights and effective water pricing and trading mechanisms. These narrow economic approaches fail to recognise the diversity and plurality of our water values or to adequately address broader social values such as equity and justice. This research aims to address these imbalances by focusing on how we might develop a deeper understanding of ethical practice in the context of more sustainable water management. It achieves this by outlining an alternative ethical framework which will support these more sustainable social and policy outcomes. Thus, the rationale for this thesis is to demonstrate that contractual ethics, or even more specifically Scanlonian contractualism, is a viable alternative normative ethical framework to utilitarianism for considering how we might justify these more sustainable water management outcomes. There is significant debate and conflict over how water should best be managed. These debates capture not only the nature of the way we interact with the environment but also the way we interact with each other. It is in these two sets of interactions that ethics can provide us with a way of justifying our actions and decisions and a basis for determining what we consider to be right or wrong, or acceptable or unacceptable in terms of water management practice. An important element of this thesis is recognising that how we think about water has important implications for how we manage water and to date, this has been undervalued in water management. To that end, I argue we must necessarily begin to appreciate the connection between what is happening in our conceptual and theoretical landscapes and how this impacts on our physical landscapes. It is in these interactions and connections that we begin to appreciate both the depth of complexity and the ‘wicked’ nature of water management. Thus, each of these debates and their related concerns exists within the broader context of how we think water should be managed and the processes by which we come to make and justify our decisions about water management. This thesis is therefore aimed at addressing this gap in the research around ethical water management. It achieves this by providing the basis for a framework which can capture not only the philosophical and ethical underpinnings of a more sustainable water ethic but also recognise and accommodate the significant research already undertaken in a variety of other disciplines. As a result, this thesis is necessarily interdisciplinary in its approach. While I base my arguments in the field of philosophical and ethical inquiry, the construction of a conceptual framework for a more sustainable water ethic is applicable to and widely influenced by a number of other fields including geography, anthropology, scientific research, economic theory, public policy and social theory. In recognising and preserving the interdisciplinary knowledge base around water management, part of the challenge has been to construct a conceptual framework and define ethical principles that can both honour this interdisciplinarity but also remain relevant in cross disciplinary settings. The nature of this interdisciplinary approach reinforces the inherent complexity of water management and was cause for some reflection because it raised the question of how best to address the research problem. This process of reflection had direct implications on the research process adopted in this thesis because it required not only an interdisciplinary response but also a balanced approach to preserving the complexity and the ‘wickedness’ of water management. These elements needed to be preserved in the research process because they are integral to our understanding of water management and inevitably raise the difficult and particularly ‘human’ questions we associate with it. Thus, the research process adopted in this thesis can be best understood as a process of reflective equilibrium. Reflective equilibrium describes the process by which we systematically examine our judgements and beliefs about a certain issue, searching for coherence with other beliefs and then revising those beliefs where evidence suggests they need to be modified. This approach allows for a range of diverse disciplinary considerations and interests to be considered in a holistic manner and is reflected in the following research activities. In the course of this thesis, I outline the development and construction of a conceptual framework for a more sustainable water ethic, which is based on a diverse range of disciplinary knowledge and expertise. This framework is supported by a rigorous and systematic application of contractual ethical principles. The first part of the thesis reflects a process of examination and review of relevant theoretical and methodological concerns, which enable interdisciplinary research to occur. In the second part of this thesis, a detailed analysis of contractual ethical principles and a philosophical analysis of values in the context of water management are presented. The findings elicited from these stages of the research are taken forward and used to examine two deliberately chosen but quite distinct case study analyses. These two case study examples reflect the diversity and range of political and policy concerns within the broader water management debate.
Keyword ethics
water management
interdisciplinary research
natural resource management
Additional Notes Please print pages 199 and 202 in colour. No landscape or A3 pages are contained within the document.

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Created: Fri, 20 Nov 2009, 16:10:57 EST by Ms Justine Lacey on behalf of Library - Information Access Service