Bottled water – Or: The power of discourse (again)

Flipping through Garry Petersons´s blog on  Resilience Science I stumbled across the topic of bottled water. Watching “The story of bottled water” I felt a bit ashamed (yes I bought bottled water): Plastic made out of finite oil, waste tourism and the manipulation of society by economic interests:

After spending three minutes on a YouTube search I  felt better, when I found an environmentally sensitive spokesperson from Nestle, assuring me I did the right thing:

By the way, thanks Nestle for offering me water as “healthy alternative, with zero sugar, calories or caffeine”.

What astonishes me is the distance of just a few clicks between two very different discoursive positions and the space between them: the classical show off between eco- and business-talk. The heavy use of we-them narratives (le bien, le mal) to contrast oneself (good) with the opponent (bad) reminded me again of the power of frames produced in discourses:

„Framing is a way of selecting, organizing, interpreting, and making sense of a complex
reality to provide guideposts for knowing, analyzing, persuading and acting.”
(REIN und SCHÖN, 1993:146)

I think it would be interesting to analyze these two (maybe there are even more) discourses on how one makes sense out of bottled water. Especially how the opponents construct and legitimize their environmental stewardship, their different concepts of ‘source protection’ and how statistical data is used in these discourses.

Maybe an interesting way to push the classical discourse analytical approach in this case would be to incorporate the idea of a “post-modern” form of participation introduced by Renn and Schweizer (2009). By doing so, the knowledge of discourses and frames could be utilized in workshops with stakeholders – maybe from the ‘the story of stuff project’ and Nestle (?) – for an attempt to collectively reframe bottled water. Another setup would be to implement this ‘post-modern’ form of participation within a certain community, be it a thematic or geographical one.

Trying to set the results of discourse analytical research in such participatory processes could also change the picture of the researcher. Here the researcher is not understood as a consultant for instrumental solutions for given problems. He or she should rather take the position of a facilitator to new perspective on the topic at hand. This can lead to the empowerment of stakeholders for new approaches and solutions. Or as Foucault put it:

“My role – and that is too emphatic a word – is to show people that they are much freer
than they feel, that people accept as truth, as evidence, some themes which have been
built up at a certain moment during history, and that this so-called evidence can be criticized
and destroyed.” (FOUCAULT and MARTIN, 1988:9)

p.s.: And congratulations to the inventors of the “eco-shaped bottle” 😉 I love this business-talk.


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