Tales from the riverside: What community stories can tell us about sustainable water resources management practices

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The integrity of renewable freshwater resources is critical for ensuring sustainable futures for human and more –than-human human life. Developing strategies to mediate and encourage symbiosis between the dominant discourses of sustainable water resources management, the realm of the ‘expert’, and indigenous knowledges and practices, is essential. This paper argues that informal, biographical storytelling plays a central role in the way that people comprehend and articulate their ‘lifeworld’: the people, values and actions that make sense to them. Understanding the importance of storytelling is therefore fundamental to connecting sustainability messaging with people’s lived experiences. Conversely, indigenous practices can refine and finesse ‘expert’ methodologies. The author presents the results of empirical fieldwork, undertaken through a series of conversations with residents within three inter-connected riparian communities, which captures performances of storytelling regarding water resources. Cataloguing these community stories reveals the nuanced ways experiential learning and community action form and shape highly individual responses with respect to local water resources management. The community stories detailed here suggest that affirmative action at the catchment level, through investments of time, expertise and funding, help create a sense of communal responsibility, and agency, over local water resources. Policies and processes that fail to intimately connect with these local perspectives are deemed remote, irrelevant and are dismissed. Yet the ‘story’ of sustainability is still only partial at the riverside; more needs to be done to communicate the urgency and scale of transformative change needed to move towards sustainable futures. The paper suggests that paying closer attention to community stories could enable those operating within the dominant discourses realms – academics, practitioners, technicians, politicians – to not only critically engage with indigenous knowledges and practices, but may also provide opportunities to find ways to seed these stories with the wider ‘big history’ perspective so essential to supporting sustainable futures, and water resource integrity, over the long term.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-140
Number of pages9
JournalSustainable Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Gearey M. Tales from the riverside: What community stories can tell us about sustainable water resources management practices. Sustainable Development. 2018;26:132–140. https://doi.org/10.1002/sd.1724, which has been published in final form at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/sd.1724. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


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