Waterscapes in transition: changing uses and perceptions of water in middle class homes in Kolkata, India

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    Abstract

    This article uses practice theory to examine changes in middle class water tenure in Kolkata, India, at the household level from the 1960s to present. Surveys (n = 34) and focus group discussions (n = 4) reveal that the Kolkata urban middle class have transformed not only how they engage water, but their perceptions of water itself. Over the study period, households have: (1) shifted their sources of water; (2) introduced new end uses for water; (3) adopted new water-related technologies; and (4) changed their perceptions of water quality. More specific findings include movement away from public sources towards private sources of water, which are perceived to be of higher quality and greater convenience. Furthermore, all households draw upon multiple water sources and all employ technologies to further harness, process, or transform water (e.g., 100% both filter their water and have a cistern toilet). This influence on the social hydrology of Kolkata ultimately demonstrates their middle class social position and their ability to commodify water. A diversity of water sources, personally treated supplies, and the capital required to secure such a waterscape are increasingly being used to reinforce middle class status, both outwardly and inwardly. These results are distinguishable at the household and society scales, and they can be observed in everyday practices.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-19pp
    JournalWater History
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2017

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