Water Governance as Performance: exploring the political dramaturgy of the Murray Darling Basin. — ASN Events

Water Governance as Performance: exploring the political dramaturgy of the Murray Darling Basin. (14458)

Naomi Rubenstein 1 , Philip J Wallis 1 , Raymond L Ison
  1. Monash Sustainability Institute, Clayton, VIC, Australia

Historically, governing the Murray-Darling Basin has been variously framed as an exercise in sharing water between the Basin states, as nation-building, as a response to salinity, as a response to drought and, most recently, as obtaining a balance between agricultural production, ecological integrity and communities. The latest reforms, instituted in the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth), have resulted in a more complex and controversial situation, with burning of the ‘Guide’, public demonstrations and several Parliamentary Inquiries into what went ‘wrong’. In this inquiry, we explore water governance in the Murray-Darling Basin through the use of dramaturgy, to reveal and explore the performative dimensions of a political process. Political performances (be they events, texts, interpersonal interactions), like theatre, employ various devices to create setting and staging, construct authority, and develop characters (both to include and exclude) whilst often trying to conceal what goes on ‘backstage’. However, political performances are subject to unplanned developments; issues, events and ‘leaks from backstage’ can take the performance into unexpected directions. A performance may attempt to tightly control the narrative though intense dramaturgical cooperation by key players or it may be designed to be open to various narratives and improvisation, much like the performance of a jazz band. In this study we explore how the problematic governance situation in the MDB was exacerbated through attempts to create a controlled performance based on the dominance of linear scientific rationality and the use of exclusionary, expert-dominated planning. A performance which may improve the water governance situation in the MDB should be conducive to social learning could intentionally encourage features such as ‘leakiness’, openness, flexibility and improvisation.