Giovanni Carrosio Ivano Scotti

Socio-technical conflicts and territorial justice in wastewater management

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If we look at the dynamics of participation and conflict around the different phases of the integrated water cycle (water captation, aqueduct management, water distribution, sewerage network management, purification, reintroduction into the environment), we discover how they gather especially in the upstream phases and in those downstream. On the upstream phases there is a great deal of knowledge: the catchments generate environmental conflicts (for example due to the construction of dams) and on the alternative uses of water (irrigation, tourism, civil uses), often putting cities and countryside against each other. On the downstream phases, however, there is little knowledge. This is the management of wastewater: they are treated through mechanical purification systems, which produce large quantities of sewage sludge (in 2018, 3,2 million tons in Italy). Around them there is a scientific controversy on the risk related to the different forms of disposal. In this phase of the integrated water cycle the conflicts become more complex, because the spatial dimension of the conflict is closely linked to the socio-technical dimension: the types of purification plants and the risk thresholds that regulate the possible uses of sludge are socio-technical choices that have different implications in terms of environmental justice. For this reason, the paper wants to shed light on the phases downstream of the integrated water cycle. It will try to understand the dynamics of participation and conflict starting from four case studies, which will offer visual angles capable of highlighting different aspects of the problem.


  • socio-technical conflicts
  • territorial justice
  • wastewater management
  • hydrosocial territories
  • water cycle


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