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Watering the suburbs: distinction, conformity and the suburban garden

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Research on domestic water use has conventionally been confined to understanding the role of physical variables such as rainfall and temperature in influencing patterns of consumption. In limiting research to this narrow focus, the significance of socio-cultural variables has been largely ignored. This paper seeks to develop socio-cultural understandings of domestic water use by examining water consumption as part of a broader set of consumption practices associated with suburban space. In particular, the socio-cultural dimensions are explored on a local scale through an exploration of water-use patterns associated with the new suburban garden: an important site of home-making processes, and one associated with a substantial proportion of domestic water consumption. The notion of cultural capital is adopted as a framework for examining these consumption patterns. Water consumption is analysed as a practice through which cultural capital can be accumulated. It is argued that the contrasting notions of social distinction and social conformity in the suburban garden shape the accumulation of cultural capital and influence patterns of water consumption. Understanding these socio-cultural dimensions of water consumption is important in shaping water-use management, an issue discussed throughout the paper.
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Keywords: Water consumption; cultural capital; gardens; social conformity; social distinction; suburbs

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Newcastle Australia

Publication date: 01 March 2004

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