Why do we focus on investigating practice?

Human beings are constantly involved in practices. Practices represent our ability to do things, think about and say things about what we do and why, and they are the ‘cornerstone’ around which we relate to others and our environments. In the section above, we suggested that there are a number of water activist practices that we might be involved in, such as water stewardship practices, in which we harvest rainwater, or save water, or monitor our use of water to reduce water wastage. We might also get involved in more politically ‘charged’ practices when we argue with councillors for the provision of free water for our communities, or if we formulate a petition. Have a look at the list of practices below and see if you can write down some examples of practices that you have been involved in. You can also add to the ‘types of practice’ or change them.

Because we are all heavily involved in the practices that we are busy with, it is often difficult to ‘stand back’ and look at these practices and how well we are doing them, or how they can be done better. One way of doing this is to analyse a practice. Academics that have been observing practices suggest that a practice is made up of a combination of doings, sayings and relatings. We will explore this below, as it may give us a way of beginning to investigate our own and others’ water activism practices, and to discuss how we might improve or expand these practices so that they can address the intentions of the NWRS2, and resolve some of the complex water related issues that face our society and our communities.

A PRACTICE is made up of:

  • DOINGS: The actions that we do to achieve something or to change some aspect of the world we live in. For example, we can install a rainwater tank to collect water or start a campaign against pollution.
  • SAYINGS: What we think and say about what we do. For example, we can discuss which rainwater tank might be the best one to put in, and explain why this is the case. We can discuss what is the best strategy for campaigning against pollution.
  • RELATINGS: Whenever we are engaged in a practice, there are relationships at play. These are relationship with people and institutions, but also with the environment. For example, it is very difficult to install a rainwater tank on one’s own. One would need to relate to a shopkeeper who sells the tank; one’s family to discuss where to put it; some other people who might be willing to help install the tank. Our relationships with the rain also affect what kind of rainwater tank we might put in. A big one might be needed if there is little rain, or a smaller one if the rain is more regular. When engaged in a campaign we will organise ourselves as a group, decide who to include. Certain policies may provide platforms for us to engage with certain institutions.

Two examples of practices that you may be familiar with are rainwater harvesting – a community based practice towards ensuring water security and food security – and water licensing, which is a practice about regulating water use. As you know, what is said about the practice of water licensing looks good on paper (sayings) but doesn’t work very well when it is meant to be done (doings) in practice for all sorts of reasons, such as a lack of monitoring compliance, poorly run stakeholder engagement processes and the influence of powerful stakeholders (relatings).