(The cover image is a public artwork by Graffiti Artist CareOneLove. The image centres the wisdom of the child in rethinking water in the city).
Anna James and Sarah Van Borek
In January 2018, international newspaper headlines indicated that Cape Town may be the world’s first major city to run out of water. A few months prior, the City of Cape Town had launched a communications campaign centred on the concept of “Day Zero” to encourage Capetonians to save water. “Day Zero” is the day when the local municipality will turn off the water running to most of the taps around the city due to dangerously low dam levels. In the event of Day Zero, Cape Town residents will be asked to collect water from stations located around the city – a maximum of 25 Litres per day per person. Even though Day Zero has been ‘called off’ for this year, the same cannot be said of the true water scarcity that faces the city of Cape Town in the long term due to drastically reduced rainfall. This has been recently confirmed by climate scientists based on rainfall received in April. This actual and long term scarcity makes ways of rethinking our relationship to water an important part of fostering deep and just sustainability in the city.
Also in January 2018, two Cape Town-based PhD scholars in Environmental Education at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC), Rhodes University, South Africa, Anna James and Sarah Van Borek, embarked to create a podcast series about the Cape Town water crisis within the context of climate change. They used the name DayOne in an attempt to counter the rather paralysing fear that a water crisis brings and to remember that there will be days after ‘Day Zero’ for which which we may have to radically reimagine our relationship to water.
This podcast is an attempt to facilitate a circular process of engaged research-communication- education-action that: a) explores the political, economic, cultural, historical and ideological factors contributing to the situation which are not addressed in the predominant individual water saving focus; and b) convenes an inclusive, non-polarized conversation within a deeply polarized situation across a city with vast inequalities. James and Van Borek aim for this to be in the spirit of participatory democracy as described by Taryn Pereira in episode 3 (forthcoming). Listen and read more about the podcast here.
On one level it is a communication tool attempting to further dialogue across divided urban space using the medium of sound. At the same time, it is part of an ongoing process of contextual profiling for environmental education PhD students who are grappling with the water-climate change nexus through critical arts-based participatory research.
The DayOne podcast
DayOne currently consists of four episodes. The first is published and complete. The second is complete and under review by those featured in it. The third is mainly in editing. The fourth has some production and post-production to go.. All episodes are centred upon a theme: 1. DayZero – an entry point to dialoguing about the drought in Cape Town; 2. Water Privatisation; 3. Augmenting Cape Town’s water supply; 4. Health in Drought. The themes arose from matters of concern and burning questions James and Van Borek gathered in their initial interactions with those working directly with the water issue in some way. The podcast aims to respond to the questions asked across the city by a variety of actors, ranging from local inner city farmers to taxi drivers to community organisers to permaculture gardeners and more. James and Van Borek hope that those who listen to the podcast will come forward with more questions which can serve to enliven the podcast as a rigorous public inquiry into the water-stressed city.
The content for each episode takes the form of four to five audio recorded interviews with relevant actors across the city, woven together by a narration that aims to provide context to the theme while balancing important facts and current affairs with creative action and practical innovation towards water solutions. Each narration script is co-written by James and Van Borek, then performed by dedicated hosts with professional radio experience (Busisiwe Mtabane, Fran-rico Lucas, Nella Etkind, and Tamzin Williams). Hosts biographies are available on the podcast website (dayonewater.wordpress.com/meet-the-team/). The narration is offered in three languages (English, Afrikaans and Xhosa). The Afrikaans and Xhosa hosts also translate the scripts, adapting the language to be more culturally relevant wherever possible.
In this emerging form the podcast holds a place both as a public communication and dialogue tool and as a mode through which James and Van Borek, as researchers, grapple with the context of water in Cape Town. It thus exists as a process of contextual profiling for both of their PhD projects. The multiple voices represented in the podcast, spatially and organisationally arranged in and across the city, surface polarisations, tensions that must be grappled with carefully as they engage their roles as mediators in editing and representing. To date they remain committed to honouring the integrity of the multitude of experiences in this unequally resourced and segregated racialised urban space. This is the challenging work required to move towards a less consumptive and more equal, just and sustainable urban space.
This blog post concludes with some initial thinking and entry points into unpacking the way in which this podcast might be a participatory knowledge production exercise.
Understanding the podcast as participatory research through arts-based inquiry and social movement learning: collective, creative and for dialogue.
The making of this podcast resonates with the notions of knowledge production within the approaches of ‘arts-based inquiry’ and social movement learning. The process of the podcast can be seen as an act of inquiry which Freire (1970) argues is the true nature of knowledge, ever evolving. It engages the elements of surfacing questions grounded in/from experience (that of the podcast co-producers and their broader community), generating data through seeking answers to questions (having conversations and recording them), analysing and digging deeper into that ‘data’ (organising the interview recordings into emerging themes), choosing the important parts that speak to the research goal and questions and knitting them together sensitively (editing field recordings and scripting narration), sharing the learnings in some representational form (in this case audio narratives), getting peer feedback, and arriving back at the questioning phase (inviting the audience to question as well). Of course, experience, data generation, analysis and representation are happening simultaneously (Norris 2009). Combined they bring a collective together who aspire to a reflective and collective praxis.
Aziz Choudry’s writing on social movement research and knowledge production provides a useful reference point for how to think about this work as knowledge building. The social ‘movement’ in this sense could be all the actors in the city who are part of a system that is learning to adapt and adjust to the vulnerability that comes with drought. As suggested in social movement research, peer review is something we have built into the process to be as rigorous and responsible as possible when engaging knowledge around this issue. The podcast production also invites peer review after the final act of representation, once the podcast is published online. Inviting continuous dialogue problematizes the idea of knowledge as a phenomena that is continuously changing and evolving in response to the context. Aziz Choudry (2015, p. 33) references social movement scholar Budd Hall on the subject of knowledge production and social action:
“knowledge is produced and renewed by continuous testing, by action upon one’s theories, by reflecting upon one’s actions, and by beginning the cycle again. It is the combination of social transformation and education that has created the kind of knowledge which forges the personal and communal commitment for sustained engagement” (Budd Hall 1978, 13-14).
The podcast also offers opportunities to creatively represent in an accessible way information and dialogue. An audio resource was something we felt would address the challenge of low written literacy levels, break down hierarchies by drawing on the and foster empathy and understanding through both giving voice and encouraging listening. While lots of interesting information and views are published and accessible online, these are only available to a few in the City of Cape Town. Going further than communication with words, we use the audio to build in soundscapes of water bodies to share an aesthetic component of our socio-ecological system. We acknowledge the contradiction that might arise with the discourse of podcast being largely internet based and from the beginning have had plans in place to contact local radio stations for potential broadcasting opportunities once we have all of the first four episodes available.
Validity is a concern in qualitative research. As Choudry notes, we do not have statistical models with which we may establish rules of validity. The validity of the podcast dialogue exists in the pre-production (preliminary background research and recruiting interviewees), production (recording interviews or conversations, writing and recording narration), and post-production (careful editing and publishing) of each episode but it goes beyond that too. It will be found in the way that the podcast is able to live as something that speaks to those living in a city facing the challenges of drought and water inequality.
We hope this initial introduction to the podcast and our reflections upon it will keep you interested in, listening to and responding to what we are doing!
Choudry, A., 2015. Learning activism: the intellectual life of social movements, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
DayOne: a podcast by/for Cape Town to help us better understand and guide the ways water flows in our city. 2018. Website http://dayonewater.wordpress.com/
Freire, P., 1970. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc.
Norris, J., 2009. Playbuilding as qualitative research: A participatory arts-based approach, Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, INC.
Van Borek, S., James, A., et al. (forthcoming)) Episode 3: Health and drought. DayOne water podcast. Cape Town.