Scaling Down: Researching Household Water Practices


  • Dena Fam University of Technology Sydney
  • Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt Australian National University
  • Zoë Sofoulis University of Western Sydney


The thematic title of this special themed section of ACME — “Scaling Down: Researching household water practices” — is a corrective to the excessive emphasis on “scaling up” frequently encountered in discourses on water management. Scaling up is a concept essentially derived from engineering procedure whereby small-scale models of designs are trialled before full-size working models are built. In positivist social science, the idea of scaling up seems now to have been accepted without much debate; researchers empirically study phenomena within a given context to develop theories that are then extrapolated. When technocrats think about and deal with water, they seem to accept scaling up as the only valid approach. When technocrats advise bureaucrats on water management, they tend to define this approach as the most rational, technically sound and economically efficient approach. Technological fixes are perceived to bypass entanglement with the messy and value-laden domains of society and politics. A technocratic approach treats social change as an engineering problem, where individuals within the society are provided expert opinions aimed at changing their attitudes to produce a more economically rationalist and efficient set of water consumption behaviours.




How to Cite

Fam, D., Lahiri-Dutt, K., & Sofoulis, Z. (2015). Scaling Down: Researching Household Water Practices. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 14(3), 639–651. Retrieved from