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The path to the new urban water paradigm – From modernity to metamodernism

Manuel Franco-Torres
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway; m.franco.torres@gmail.com

ABSTRACT: The urban water sector in industrialised countries is transitioning towards a new paradigm, usually characterised by participatory approaches to governance, integrated modes of management, circular economies, partnership with nature, and green and distributed infrastructure. However, change in a prevailing paradigm is rarely seen in connection with shifts in the underlying societal beliefs, assumptions, and values of an epoch (that is, the cultural framework). In this paper, I review the alterations that the dominant urban water paradigm has experienced over the past 150 years, analysing them in relation to evolving cultural frameworks. I start with industrial modernity (mid-19th century to mid-20th century), followed by descriptions of postmodernism and reflexive modernisation (late 20th century). Finally, I provide an innovative analysis of the new urban water paradigm as a reflection of metamodernism, an emergent cultural framework recently described in the field of cultural studies. I show that metamodernism can be used to explain coherently how urban water systems in industrialised countries are responding to growing complexity and uncertainty. They do so by oscillating between principles associated with modernity, such as order, technological optimism and utopian development, and postmodern principles, such as eclecticism, partial views of reality and participation.

KEYWORDS: Urban water management, new paradigm, modernity, reflexive modernisation, metamodernism