Sense of place and freshwater management: five types of meaning

Posted on March 27, 2012

Modern water management routinely involves dealing with the often diverse  views of local stakeholders, especially those with close connections to locations where management interventions are proposed or have already occurred.  Because many of the attitudes and beliefs of stakeholders depend strongly on the spatial context, a better understanding of the various meanings that emerge from a sense of place should enhance management effectiveness.  Two Dutch case studies, involving stream restoration and water level planning, provided frameworks for semistructured interviews of stakeholders, who included local residents, farmers, conservationists and water agency representatives.  Interview questions explored place meanings, attitudes towards interventions, and beliefs underlying attitudes.  Based on their analyses of interview transcripts, the researchers identified five categories of place meaning, namely those relating to beauty (aesthetic judgments), functionality (landscape use), attachment (relationships of belonging), biodiversity (nature) and risk (worries about current or expected problems).  Most stakeholders expressed place meanings that covered all five categories, and this finding, coupled with strong similarities between the categories and those identified in previous Dutch, English and American studies, suggests that they could be useful in developing a conceptual basis for further studies on the meaning of place in freshwater settings.  The study showed that classifying stakeholders‘ perceptions simply on the basis of their apparent interests (as residents, farmers etc)  is too narrow an approach, because some stakeholders take the interests of others into account, and because interests come into play in a specific planning context through the framing of place meanings and beliefs.

Reference:  Jacobs, M.H. & Buijs, A.E.  2011.  Understanding stakeholders’ attitudes toward water management interventions: role of place meanings.  Water Resources Research 47, W01503, doi:10.1029/2009WR008366.

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