Exploring sustainability through stakeholders’ perspectives and hybrid water in the Swiss Alps

Flurina Schneider
Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Bern; flurina.schneider@cde.unibe.ch

ABSTRACT: Can the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid and the analysis of different users’ perceptions of water advance the study of water sustainability? In this article, I explore this question by empirically studying sustainability values and challenges, as well as distinct types of water as identified by members of five water user groups in a case study region in the Swiss Alps.Linking the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid with the different water users’ perspectives provided valuable insights into the complex relations between material, cultural, and discursive practices. In particular, it provided a clearer picture of existing water sustainability challenges and the factors and processes that hinder more sustainable outcomes. However, by focusing on relational processes and individual stakeholder perspectives, only a limited knowledge could be created regarding a) what a more sustainable water future would look like and b) how current unsustainable practices can be effectively transformed into more sustainable ones.I conclude by arguing that the concept of water as a socio-natural hybrid provides an interesting analytical tool for investigating sustainability questions; however, if it is to contribute to water sustainability, it needs to be integrated into a broader transdisciplinary research perspective that understands science as part of a deliberative and reflective process of knowledge co-production and social learning between all actor groups involved.

KEYWORDS: Hybrid water, stakeholder perceptions, water sustainability, Switzerland