Graduation Year

2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology

Major Professor

Susan D. Greenbaum, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Graham A. Tobin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Mark Stewart, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brent R. Weisman, Ph.D.

Keywords

culture, anthropology, environmental, values, policy

Abstract

This applied anthropology dissertation aims to enhance public policy and best

practices for conserving potable water resources, using the Tampa Bay region of

southwest Florida as a case study. It addresses not how humans conserve, but why

they may or may not choose to do so. To date, a limited anthropological focus on water

conservation behavior in western, urban settings has created a gap in the role culture

plays in understanding why people conserve.

The research problem is to identify how water conservation behavior in Tampa,

Florida can be enhanced through a better understanding of beliefs and values reflected

in individual mental models of water users, and subsequent cultural models that emerge.

Applied anthropologists are paying increasing attention to "cultural models," those

shared, simplified, formal representations of explicit and implicit knowledge, interests,

beliefs, and values that help individuals understand the world and their behavior in it.

Environmental anthropologists, especially, have recognized the power of this analytic

tool to find solutions to complex environmental problems by incorporating cultural and

political contexts.

Though Florida’s water resources appear abundant, they are highly variable in

time and space with a well documented flood and drought recurrence, 90% of the 2007

population of 18.7 million living in coastal areas and most fresh ground water, which

93% of the population relies on for drinking supplies, situated inland. By 2020, Florida’s

projected total water use will grow from 7.2 to 9.1 billion gallons per day, with public

significant water “source” by overcoming public apathy and better understanding

conserving behavior.

The research methodology emphasizes a qualitative approach to address beliefs

and values most related to water conservation, and identify cultural models. Key

methods employed were: a comprehensive contextual analysis of Florida’s history,

environment and water law; use of recent results of a Tampa Bay Water Conservation

Public Opinion Survey; and semi-structured interviews with twenty City of Tampa

households (half high water users and half low water users) and seven water resource

experts. All twenty-seven interviews were recorded and transcribed for textual analysis

to reveal mental and cultural models, and let informants speak for themselves to share

their beliefs and values. Direct quotations were coded and used to illustrate key points,

including the three cultural domains that emerged: 1) Why conserve water?; 2) Sources

of conservation values; and 3) Lack of water conservation awareness and involvement.

The primary beliefs and values identified by informants included: 1) the need to

avoid waste and greed

protect existing water supply sources

perception of fairness among water users

. Both the archival

research (past opinion surveys, media coverage) and semi-structured interviews indicate

people feel conservation is not being shared fairly among water users. This view is

closely linked to waste and greed values, and applies to watering lawns excessively as

well as use by other sectors (agriculture, golf courses, businesses, etc.). Informants felt

strongly rules are not being enforced equitably. The clear danger is this perception may

serve as rationale for non-conserving behavior.

, both for current benefits and generations to

come; and 3) the

perception of fairness among water users

. Both the archival

research (past opinion surveys, media coverage) and semi-structured interviews indicate

people feel conservation is not being shared fairly among water users. This view is

closely linked to waste and greed values, and applies to watering lawns excessively as

well as use by other sectors (agriculture, golf courses, businesses, etc.). Informants felt

strongly rules are not being enforced equitably. The clear danger is this perception may

serve as rationale for non-conserving behavior.

Two other shared beliefs and values were put forward by informants. A

significant majority believe existing policy areas of

education, regulation and

incentives should be used to achieve water conservation

. Finally, the predominant

role of

family as the source of conservation values was strongly supported.

The specific “cultural model” for water conservation in Tampa would be based in

family as a source of conservation values, emphasize avoidance of waste while

protecting existing sources and directly address widespread perceptions of inequity

among water users.

The theory and methods of anthropology, including cultural models, can

contribute to enhancing water conservation. This dissertation is an example of those

possibilities, setting the stage for ongoing research, including:

Refinement of methods specific to the water use culture of the Tampa region.

Exploring cultural models of diverse sub-cultures such as youth, Hispanics and

others to enhance water conservation.

Overcoming social desirability impacts as part of refining cultural models.

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