Worldviews and the everyday politics of community water management

Frances Cleaver
Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK; f.cleaver@lancaster.ac.uk

Luke Whaley
Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK; l.whaley@sheffield.ac.uk

Evance Mwathunga
Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Chancellor College, University of Malawi, Zomba, Malawi; emwathunga@cc.ac.mw

ABSTRACT: This article highlights one important reason why attempts to achieve sustainable development through community management often fail – the neglect of worldviews. It addresses a gap in existing research on institutional bricolage by focussing on the core role that beliefs and rationales play in resource governance. Our research into rural water supply in Malawi and Uganda was conducted through a variety of ethnographic methods including year-long community diaries. Drawing on this, we demonstrate how worldviews shape local water management arrangements and their outcomes. We unpick three dimensions of the work that worldviews do In (1) making sense of socio-natural events and processes, (2) maintaining unequal social orders, and (3) serving as resources for institutional arrangements. The article concludes with a reflection on how our approach meaningfully furthers critical water studies, and on the challenges faced by development initiatives in operationalising such insights.

KEYWORDS: Worldviews, critical institutionalism, institutional bricolage, community management, Malawi, Uganda