From the hydrosocial to the hydrocitizen: water, place and subjectivity within emergent urban wetlands

Mary Gearey, Neil Ravenscroft, Andrew Church

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper argues that the expansion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 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 CSR 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-428
JournalEnvironment and Planning E: Nature and Space
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2019


  • hydrosocial
  • hydrocitizenships
  • environmental citizenship
  • urban wetlands
  • volunteering
  • governmentality
  • POPS


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