Water as Social and Cultural Space: Changing Values and Representations

The interdisciplinary paradigm of the project emphasises the shared concept of the interconnections between the central categories of water, space, and technology. While conceptualising water related to the frameworks of space and technology, we aim to identify the cognitive aspects and the spatial order of water. The focus on the ‘spatial imagination’ entails the thesis that our perception of water is a cultural and social construction which is produced, imagined, and consequently, interlinked with political and economic power.

The interconnections of water and space should be tested within the conceptual triad of perceived, imagined and lived space in order to contribute to the further perspectives for the interdisciplinary field of water research. The project is based on inter- and multidisciplinary studies including language, literary and cultural studies, history (especially history of technology), engineering sciences and environmental studies. The main focus is on the social and cultural significance of water. Within this reading water will be understood as a geographical and physical, as well as a cognitive and cultural construction.

It is our aim to underline the polyvalence of meanings, dimensions and values given to water in various times and spaces. The emphasis on the social and cultural dimensions of water will link together both diachronic and synchronic material, as it will also serve as the methodological frame for the systematic analysis accomplished by the subprojects. The guiding questions are: how do our perceptions of water affect our approaches to it in our everyday lives; what are the changes connected to the meanings, values and the images given to water and its textual and visual representations in time and space; what are the cultural implications of technical innovations, and vice versa; and what is the cultural role of water in times of transformations from the pre-modern to the modern and to post-modern.

The project aims to enlarge knowledge of the large reservoir of symbols, metaphors and imagery given to water; to enhance the capacity and competence for the future governance of sustainable water issues; to enhance critical knowledge of the technological infrastructure as part of the social imagination; and to create a productive methodological dialogue between literary, language and cultural studies, historical, and environmental studies, and engineering in a synthesising process.

The individual subprojects ask various interconnected questions: what has been the function and meaning of water, waterways, and wastewater in the formation of cultures and how has it affected the everyday life of people; what are our values, beliefs, fears, and attitudes toward water; what are the stories we tell about water and what are the meanings we give to water in our languages; how is water represented in literature, historical documents, and the visual arts and how do those representations influence our ways of dealing with water.

Analysing the various ways how people are connected to different water spaces in different cultures, periods, and languages, the overall aim of the research project is to understand the meanings of water and how water, as an essential life-vitalising element, plays a conceptual role in cultural orientation both in global and local contexts and how cultural practices intersect with environmental concerns.

Last modified 16 Jul 2015
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