Traces of Water Workshop 2: Water Practices and everyday life

Will Medd and Elizabeth Shove, Lancaster University

‘It we start to think about our everyday activities, and what needs to be in place to enable them to happen, we soon find ourselves looking beyond our own capacity to decide and choose. Much of what we do in everyday life is routine. Such routines require a complex co-ordination of bodies, minds, technologies, and resources. In everyday life, these different elements come together and are regularly, if invisibly, co-ordinated as we go about our most basic tasks, from brushing teeth to watering a garden plant. Instead of understanding these practices in terms of a set of decisions – such as ‘what is the cost in relation to benefit’ or ‘is this the best option for me’ – social scientists have developed the concept of practice. A practice refers to a ‘routinised type of behaviour’ (Reckwitz 2002 p.249). Different practices involve different elements and/or different relationships between the elements.’

‘The existence of a practice depends upon the specific interconnectedness of many elements:
• Forms of bodily activity
• Mental activity
• Things and their use
• Background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how and notions of competence
• States of emotion and motivational knowledge
At the same time, elements and interconnections are reproduced through the practice (following Reckwitz 2002).’

I found these reports by Will Medd and Elizabeth Shove to be so much about what I am doing. Within the text the authors point out ‘The key point is that the consumption of water takes place as a consequence of accomplishing different types of practices rather than for its own sake.’
The idea that water consumption is embedded within a larger practices- say having a shower is about being clean, not about water use, is obvious, however is an idea I have never addressed. How can you switch the practice of having a shower to having the key idea of water use with objectives of cleanliness being secondary. Cultural ideas of cleanliness are so embedded in our lives- can water saving sit beside that? How long does it take to become ‘clean’ in a shower? 2 minutes? So what are the other 10 or so minutes about that people spend standing in the shower? Is it about warmth, comfort, meaningful thought, singing…


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