From Integration to intersectionality: A review of water ethics

Jeremy J. Schmidt
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK; jeremy.schmidt@durham.ac.uk

ABSTRACT: The field of water ethics focuses on the judgments affecting water use and decision making, as well as their normative justification. These justifications can take many forms. Consequently, water ethics grapple with philosophical considerations, law, custom, religion, and the practical options available for accessing or distributing water in different contexts. Increasingly, the field also includes active academic support for communities seeking water justice. This review examines these dynamics in three steps. The first section provides a brief history of water ethics as a distinct field of inquiry. It highlights how philosophical approaches to water ethics have been in tension with the use of water ethics to support integrated water resources management. The second section reviews scholarship from multiple disciplines that overlap in their concern regarding ethical relations to water and different ways social norms are justified. This scholarship has pushed the field of water ethics to reflect more critically on what constitutes justification given the diversity and plurality of water norms. The third section examines how the obligations entailed by water ethics are acted upon by scholarly and community initiatives seeking water justice. Here, the article focuses on how the recognition of multiple vectors of inequality has led to a shift towards intersectional ethics. A short conclusion offers no prescriptions but rather encouragement for continued appreciation of how this subfield helps reframe and address urgent water concerns.

KEYWORDS: Water, ethics, values, justice, intersectionality