Towards hydrocitizenship: Connecting communities with and through responses to interdependent, multiple water issues

  • Church, Andrew (PI)
  • Gearey, Mary (CoI)
  • Ravenscroft, Neil (CoI)
  • Jones, Owain (CoPI)
  • Coates, Peter (CoI)
  • McEwen , Lindsey (CoI)
  • Buser, Michael (CoI)
  • Evans, Graeme (CoI)
  • Edizel, Ozlem (CoI)
  • Orchard-Webb, Johanne (CoI)
  • Penrhyn Jones, Sara (CoPI)
  • Plows, Alexandra (CoI)
  • Payne, Tom (CoI)
  • Bottoms, Stephen (CoPI)
  • Roe, Maggie (CoI)
  • Dudley, Lyze (CoI)

Project Details


The Hydrocitizenship collaborative project ran from 2014 to 2017 and investigated ways in which communities live with each other and their environment in relation to water in a range of UK neighbourhoods.

It involved partnering academics from University of Brighton, Bath Spa University, The University of the West of England, Middlesex University, University of Bristol, Aberystwyth University, Bangor University, University of Manchester, University of Newcastle along with participating water authorities and local communities.

The focus of the project was researching within, and working with, a range of communities to address intersecting social and environmental challenges through an application of arts and humanities approaches, including performance and film making, history and heritage and interactive mapping.

The environmental focus was on interconnected water issues, which included such issues as flood risk, drought risk, supply and waste system security, access to water as an amenity and social (health) benefit, waterside planning issues, and water-based biodiversity/landscape assets.

Given the extreme storm surge and flooding incidents in the UK, as well as other pressing water issues, this research was particularly timely. The social focus considered how communities are formed, and interconnected by, both environmental assets and risks, and consequent questions of social and ecological justice.

Towards hydrocitizenship aimed to investigate, and make creative contributions to, the ways in which citizens and communities live with each other and their environment in relation to water in a range of UK neighbourhoods. The research asked a series of questions about what communities are, how they function, and the role of environmental (water) assets and issues in the coming together of communities, conflicts within and between communities, and progress to interconnected community and environmental resilience.

The core approached within the project are arts and humanities disciplines and practices, (history, theatre studies, film making, narrative studies, cultural geography, landscape studies) which were integrated with a range of social science disciplines (planning, environmental geography, community studies) and methods (ethnography and participatory action research).

The research process saw arts and social enterprise consultants, community partners, and other water/community stakeholders taking full part in the project in four case study areas in Wales and England. The case studies were in Bristol, Lee Valley (London), Borth and Tal-y-bont (Mid Wales), and Shipley (Bradford). Each case study was being conducted by a local team of academics, artists, community activists, and selected community partners ranging from small community groups to larger organisations charged with aspects of regeneration and community resilience.

The case study teams also exchanged and integrated skills, methods, experiences and findings into an overarching synthesis. This synthesis addressed the questions set out above and provided a reflexive analysis of how creative and participatory arts and humanities centred interdisciplinary research can be done effectively and with legacy.

Key findings

During the project’s three-year timeframe, the overall academic team of 15 researchers from nine universities worked with the arts practitioners and community groups to refine and advance participatory research practices and outputs.

The exact form and direction of these activities led to the outcome of local, collaborative working. The interdisciplinary team worked across all case study sites in order to magnify impacts and ensure that the research was relevant in a range of disciplines and policy arenas.

In Gearey, Church, Ravenscroft (2019) 'From the hydrosocial to the hydrocitizen' the authors noted that:

"the expansion of corporate social responsibility initiatives within the English water sector, and in particular the opening up of privately owned public spaces (POPS) in urban settings, have generated spatially fixed forms of human-environment relationships that we have termed ‘hydrocitizenships’. Utilising empirical fieldwork undertaken within an emergent wetland POPS, we suggest that these novel modes of citizen agency are primarily enacted through the performativity of volunteering, in multiple civic roles such as landscapers, citizen scientists, stewards and storytelling guides. Members of the local community thus effectively curate new civic subjectivities for themselves in response to the site and its organisation, by producing for themselves new modes of ‘hydrocitizenship’. These hybrid intertwined forms of practice prompt us to ask questions about the extent to which these apparently new forms of environmental citizenship are self-directed, or manipulated. As access, control over, and use of, water resources are a synecdoche of structural power relationships within contemporary neoliberal economies, we can go further to suggest that these blue-green POPS are emblematic of a new iteration of hydro-social relations in which water, place and subjectivity become the collateral through which new POPS are secured. For water companies seeking to deploy corporate social responsibility there is, then, a subtle two step move to be made, by building brand loyalty and then developing new forms of resource management in which local communities accept heightened levels of responsibility for sites to which they are offered recreational access. These emergent ‘hydrocitizenships’ thus encapsulate very specific geo-spatial subjectivities and performativities which lock in access to waterscapes with closely scripted conditionalities regarding activity and behaviour."

Gearey, M., Church, A., & Ravenscroft, N. (2019). From the hydrosocial to the hydrocitizen: Water, place and subjectivity within emergent urban wetlands. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 2(2), 409-428.

Effective start/end date1/05/1430/04/17


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council


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