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Open Access MAKARA, Societal responses to surface water "quality" changes (France, 19th-20th centuries), ANR 12-SENV-009

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The European Framework Directive on waters (WFD) fundamentally altered our perceptions on waters, their management and their vulnerabilities. This project which mobilizes historians, geographers, political scientists, lawyers, sociologists, geochemists, hydrologists and engineers, aims to revisit the concept of water quality using a multidisciplinary approach, combining two kinds of environmental science, i.e. analyses of discourses on water quality and descriptions of the state of the environment. The aim is to understand how this concept has been built by different kind of stakeholders in the 19th and 20th centuries, but also what is his part socially constructed, what are ruptures or changes in the design of quality, and how society has responded to these "real" or socially constructed changes. Perceptions, regulations and observations of the environment are three conceptual pillars of the project Makara. They are necessarily at the source because without them there is no possible objectification, and they are essential in the outcome as a means of evaluation of policies. Historicized analysis of these three pillars is thus a guiding principle that allows both to assess the man-environment relationships as they are idealized by society and to contextualize the policy intentions and outcomes, to evaluate the delays, blockages and accelerations. The areas studied are the hydrographic basins as defined by the 1964 French Act on waters, particularly the basins of the Seine, the Loire and the Rhone, as well as Britanny, i.e. spatial and human settlements scales from 1000 to 100 000 km2 and from 20,000 to 17M inhabitants. The project includes two other levels encompassing these three pillars: a case study approach on the identified problems (chemicals, biological alteration, ...) which will allow detailed analyses of the discrepancies on the visions of water quality given by the first three themes. And a synthesis that will include a generalization of these discrepancies between perceptions, regulations and measures. The aim is to achieve a history of water quality in the environment that emphasizes varied trajectories, varied perceptions of quality changes whose genesis is not always related to what the measures of quality states, qualities defined by regulations that translate only a part of what was expressed in speeches and is only partly related to field measurements, and finally measures that only partly meet the requirements of regulations. We also try to highlight the historical evolution of these shifts, the forms of convergence and differentiation between the areas studied, the role of configurations and types of pressures at different scales (local, regional, national, ..) or the influence of more or less publicized debates.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 2017

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