Ignorance is bliss? A case of un-politicized drinking water
Ignorance is bliss?
A case of un-politicized
@AnninaTakala / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tampere University of Technology, Finland
Taken for granted
People don’t know
People don’t understand
Why are water services not
• topic becomes an object of public debate
• opening, broadening, and restoring public discussion
• constructing / framing (environmental) problems
• How to research something so mundane, something that is
embedded in everyday practices, something that retreats
into the background of awareness? (Sofoulis 2005)
Lately, problems related to river
Eurajoki have been widely
discussed in public. This is no
wonder as there have been so
many unfortunate events.
Several sewer overflows,
sludge emissions, chemical
This week situation
worsened again so
water users, Rauma
Water and UPM,
had to stop taking
The biggest trouble
was caused to
Rauma Water who
had to rely on
water from lake
water will suffice
for a week.
LS Tekstaritalikko 20.9.2012
LS Tekstaritalikko 21.9.2012
LS Tekstaritalikko 23.9.2012
• Rauma’s raw water:
• river Eurajoki
• river Lapinjoki
• Throughout the years, there has been trouble both
with the quality and quantity of water
• Rauma Water supplies drinking water to 38 800
• Permanganate value: 30 - 80 mg/l KMnO4
(4 - 7 mg/l KMnO4)
A case study: Drinking water
in the town of Rauma
• 52 km
• Average flow 11 m3/s
• Raw water acquisition: Rauma, industry (pulp and paper),
Olkiluoto (nuclear power plant)
• Wastewater treatment plants: JVP-Eura Oy (Eura
municipality and industry), Säkylä municipality, Apetit Oyj
• High microbial content (source unclear)
Local newspaper (2005-2015)
• More than 200 news pieces about the problems
related to River Eurajoki
• 50 mention Rauma’s raw water acquisition
“Do people from Rauma
understand what kind of raw
water the town uses to make its
drinking water. No, they don’t
understand, they don’t know.
The officials do know, but
don’t do anything about it.
Local newspaper (2005-2015)
• More than 100 SMSs from the readers
• 25 mention Rauma’s raw water acquisition
• People understand that in the water treatment plant all
kinds of impurities can be removed and that the drinking
water is safe.
• However, at least some people are very much concerned
and these concerns impact their lives:
• “It makes me wonder what kind of risks drinking water causes
for the little children and the ill ones… I’m wondering what
would be the safe way to use water. Should it be boiled?”
• ”I don’t drink tap water. It tastes and smells terrible. I use
boiled water for cooking. I really wouldn’t give it to my kids."
• People don’t know where their
water comes from
• Raw water acquisition had been
explained in the local newspaper
• “Water has tasted bad already
before, but based on the situation
in Eura, I don’t dare to use water
• 69 % are happy with the quality of
drinking water (national average is
People don’t know and don’t care?
• Maybe people contact the municipality and water utility
• Instead of collective action people protect themselves and
their families (i.e. inverted quarantine, Szasz 2007)
• E.g. buying bottled water
• ”In our family, we donʼt drink tap water; instead we buy water
or get it from my sister [living in the next town]. But it is hard.
And it feels bad as thereʼs so much plastic waste and our
municipality doesnʼt even have a recycling system for plastic.”
• No statistics on bottled water consumption
People are concerned but this
does not result in collective
Trust? Denial? Humble
• High level of trust in public services
• Drinking water is a very intimate issue crossing the
boundaries of home and body (e.g. Wilk 2006; Fitchen 1989)
• ”Humble adaptation” (Lahti 1996)
• ”Substantial concern, modest salience” (Szasz 2007)
• Tap water is used mainly for other purposes than drinking. Does
not interest water utilities?
• Just a personal preference?
• ”I don’t eat liver, but I don’t contact the liver company to tell
them that I’m not eating your product.”
Ignorance is bliss?
Drinking water as public
• Ethos of serving public good
• “It feels that you are not allowed to talk about these things.
You are not allowed to complain [about water] because
everything is so good. [… ]But why is there no public debate
about this? Is it not allowed to talk about it? Why donʼt they
• Distrust can develop over time, especially if concerns are
not addressed (Parag & Roberts 2009)
Paradigms of water services
(Heino & Takala 2015)
• Ignorance is bliss
• Educating people
• More visibility, more
• Ethos of serving the public
• Co-management and co-
creation of value
• Open and shared expertise
• Fitchen, J.M. 1989. When Toxic chemicals Pollute Residential Environments: The
Cultural Meanings of Home and Homeownership. Human Organization 48(4),
• Heino, O. & Takala, A. 2015a. Paradigm Shift of Water Services: From Production
Mentality to Service Mindset. Water Alternatives, 8(3), 433-446.
• Lahti, V.-M. 1996. Risk society came to town: a sociological study of the
consequences in people’s lives of their tap water being polluted (in Finnish).
Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki.
• Parag, Y. & Roberts, J.T. 2009. A Battle Against the Bottles: Building, Claiming, and
Regaining Tap-Water Trustworthiness. Society and Natural Resources 22(7), 625–
• Sofoulis, Z. 2005. Big Water, Everyday Water: A Sociotechnical Perspective.
Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 19(4), 445-463.
• Szasz, A. 2007. Shopping Our Way to Safety. How We Changed from Protecting the
Environment to Protecting Ourselves. University of Minnesota Press.
• Wilk, R. 2006. Bottled Water: The pure commodity in the age of branding. Journal
of Consumer Culture 6(3), 303–325.