Does social media benefit dominant or alternative water discourses?

María Mancilla-García
Department of Financial Law, Political Economy and Philosophy of Law at the University of Malaga, Malaga, Spain; m.mancillagarcia@qeh.oxon.org

ABSTRACT: Political ecology and cognate fields have highlighted the social constructedness of different water discourses, exposing them as the product of a particular view of nature with underpinning interests and political consequences. Integrated Water Resources Management, technical approaches, or the privatisation of drinking water services have enjoyed dominant positions, being able to determine what constitutes common sense. This has excluded numerous other alternative approaches, such as those championed by indigenous peoples. Social media, through its easy accessibility and its emphasis on visual, interactive, and short communication forms, bears the promise to challenge dominant discourses. Whether social media benefits dominant or alternative discourses has not yet been explored by the political ecology literature to which this article contributes. The article conducts a qualitative analysis of the use of two of the main social networking services (Facebook and Twitter) by nine organisations working on water. Organisations were selected considering their likelihood to champion different water discourses. The article analyses the formats used, the place of communities, and the kind of language employed. It argues that while social media presents an interesting potential for alternative discourses, it also offers important tools for dominant discourses to consolidate themselves. The article concludes that social media does not structurally challenge the status quo and suggests avenues for future research.

KEYWORDS: Social media, discourse, hegemony, counter-hegemony, water organisations