International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Changing Water Cultures (CANALS)

The changing climate is disrupting fresh water infrastructures. Dominant technocratic systems of knowledge and practice supporting water infrastructures in Europe are being undermined by rapid changes, which introduce new uncertainties and contest old securities. We need novel ways of mobilising knowledge for water infrastructures that readmits communities’ diverse cultural interactions with water to promote adaptive decision-making.

Adopting an innovative water culture perspective, CANALS will first make visible the spectrum of knowledges and practices used by different social groups for maintaining infrastructures. Going further, the project will develop transdisciplinary ways of convening an ‘extended peer community’ of water stakeholders, to together appraise the quality of their water knowledges for policy-making.

Project team


March 2021 – February 2023

Project description

The CANALS project begins from three claims; (i) that current understandings of water, climate and infrastructures struggle to address emerging uncertainties due to climate change; (ii) that a proper regard for water cultures is needed to overcome these obstacles; particularly by (iii) extending the ‘peer communities’ of diverse knowledge-holders. CANALS’ water culture perspective understands cultures as both practices and systems of symbols and meanings. It recognises the hybrid character of water, which exists independently of humans and at the same time is culturally enacted through human practices. It also sees infrastructures as social practices connecting people and objects in the world in socio-material relations. A water-cultural perspective thus better captures the complex processes around water infrastructures in the context of challenges posed by climate change.