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Bridging divides for water? Dialogue and access at the 5th World Water Forum
ABSTRACT: The 5th World Water Forum was officially presented as a deliberative democracy where diverse stakeholders could gather to talk about water. However, the conference was marred by significant conflict, ranging from audience complaints to protests, and to alternative political declarations. This paper explores why a Forum designed to 'Bridge Divides for Water' (the official theme) was so contentious that participants were unable to reach any sort of consensus. I explore four hypothesised mechanisms by which the Forum itself counteracted the possibility of Bridging Divides and creating constructive dialogue. First, I argue that, because of cost, security and size, the Forum made many participants feel unable to fully access the Forum and share their opinions. Second, I suggest that the programmatic structure of the Forum promoted simplified ways of talking about water that made translation between perspectives difficult. Third, I contend that the physical space where Forum deliberations occurred institutionalised unequal social arrangements, making certain viewpoints more audible than others. Fourth, I demonstrate that the Turkish host government actively masked contestation to present a 'civilised' Forum to the world.