(Lack of) Problematization of Water Supply Use and Abuse of Environmental Discourses and Natural Resource Related Claims in German, Austrian, Slovenian and Italian Media

  •  Franzisca Weder    
  •  Denise Voci    
  •  Nadja Christin Vogl    


The paper aims to trace back the environmental discourse on water supply and the risk of scarcity and to learn about media dealing with information about natural resources we cannot live without. Therefore, it presents a theoretical concept to identify the degree of problematization of resource related issues in the media and works out regularities of environmental discourses.

Design: The presented data of a quantitative as well as qualitative media content analysis (Nvivo) of newspaper articles (n = 1745) published in Central Europe (Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Germany) focuses on the arguments and frames used in relation to the issue of water supply. Based on a theoretical model of public debates and discourses on CSR, sustainability and environmental issues (Bourdieu, 1991; May et al., 2007; Weder, 2012a, 2012b; Castello et al., 2013; Weder, 2015a), the underlying assumption is that only a high degree of problematization (variety and counter activeness of arguments) in the media represents a public discourse.

Findings: The results show that the main water supply related sub issues debated in the media are water privatization and management. Media discourses about water as a natural resource are dominated by economic frames, in particular arguments of corporations (particularly in Italy) and political actors (particularly in Austria). Accordingly, the lack of controversy and counterarguments as well as the homogeneity of frames show that the issue of water allocation and the risk of scarcity is not problematized in the media.

Implications: Working with the theoretical assumption of a high degree of problematization as condition for public discourses, the qualitative evaluation shows a non-existence of an environmental discourse on resources and sustainable ways of water allocation and usage. This puts the phenomenon of politicization, when environmental discourses are drawn to and used by another (i.e. the political) field, up for discussion with an “abuse” of environmental claims for specific political and economic interests as worst-case scenario.

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