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Picturing waters: a review of Photovoice and similar participatory visual research on water governance

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Seeing is one of the main sensory experiences for knowing water and for generating meanings of it. To acknowledge this, visual research methods are increasingly popular in social sciences. In this paper, research using Photovoice or similar participatory visual methods is reviewed in order to assess their potential contribution to the study of water governance. A total of 23 articles related to 20 projects on (1) water, health, and sanitation; (2) participation in water management; (3) landscapes and water spaces; and (4) domestic urban waters, were identified. They are assessed on the basis of the research's purpose, participants, visual outputs, and outcomes. Results are discussed against the three main goals stated by Photovoice's advocates: to record and reflect on communities’ strengths and concerns, to facilitate critical dialogue, and to reach policymakers. We find some evidence about participatory visual methods contribute to the first two goals. However, while most articles assert that Photovoice proved an effective tool for communicating participants’ views to a wider audience and for reaching policy makers, data and analysis on these processes are generally lacking. Documenting and reflecting on these processes are crucial issues that future visual research on water governance should address, particularly in a time when science is increasingly asked to outreach and impact on societal issues. WIREs Water 2017, 4:e1226. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1226 This article is categorized under: Human Water > Methods Human Water > Water Governance Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented
Themes and locations of the reviewed studies.
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An example of picture linking participants' feeling with infrastructures. Exterior view of a “Ventilated Pit Latrine”(VIP) in Dassenveld (South Africa). The pipe on the left of the structures helps to remove odor from inside the latrine. “That's the toilete, this is the outside…there is no lock.” Credits: 34 year old woman. Photovoice project. Source: Scorgie.
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An example of picture recording emotions associated to water. ‘Even though the dead trees in the picture were not caused by lack of water (rather rising salinity) the desolate landscape that they present emphasizes the lack of hope that can be held by farmers when they have to look at the view everyday.’ Source: Keremane.
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An example of picture illustrating participants' views and concerns. ‘So the important rule [is that] we take great care of the pump because we get clean water as a whole community.’ Credits: James Gbomgbotoh, Kambama. Source: Thompson.
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