Water, Place and Learning: A Case Study from the Occupied Palestinian Territories

  • Anna Sweeney

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This research explores the role of co-learning in addressing water issues, being both context sensitive and responsive to the needs, lived experiences and symbolic representations of people at the local level in the case of the West Bank. Water is essential to the wellbeing of all societies, not only due to the necessity of water for life, but because it connects us to stories about place, beliefs and norms, identity and others, through the meanings that it invariably comes to embody. This research critically examines the significance for learning of freshwater: as a physical necessity; as a metaphor; and, as a source of meaning in the context of community-based water interventions. The dominance of particular narratives around water in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are discussed, as these have resulted in the acceptance of specific understandings about the problems and solutions to the water shortages that are experienced across the West Bank in differentiated ways. The effects of these narratives on water intervention processes and outcomes are observed, being most adverse in relation to local ownership, agency and identity as well as sustainability. A meaning-based framework is proposed based on an understanding of sense of place and a socio-political perspective of water shortages, as a way to reconnect the discourse with Palestinians' own accounts of water and place, and to provide opportunities to explore NGO engagement with divergent knowledges, perspectives, and priorities during interventions. It is argued that water interventions can be understood as a social learning process, which NGOs may be ideally situated to mediate. A model of learning and sustainable development is revisited and revised in order to consider the relationship between participation, agency and sustainability in relation to community-based water interventions.
Date of Award12 Oct 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSteve Gough (Supervisor) & Elisabeth Barratt Hacking (Supervisor)


  • Water
  • sense of place
  • social learning
  • Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • West Bank

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