Meaning and the construction of social impacts: water infrastructure development in Australia's Gladstone/Calliope region

Lockie, Stewart, Momtaz, Salim, and Taylor, Bruce (1999) Meaning and the construction of social impacts: water infrastructure development in Australia's Gladstone/Calliope region. Rural Society, 9 (3). pp. 529-542.

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[Extract] Social impact assessment (SIA) has become an important means through which the social implications of major infrastructure and resource developments are incorporated into public decision making. Yet the most appropriate manner in which to go about SIA remains as contentious in many development contexts as the proposed developments themselves. As Howitt (1989: 154) observes, 'the impact assessment process itself is part of a process of social change with significant social and political consequences'. Broadly speaking, SIA studies have been polarised between approaches that emphasise the technical collection of, primarily quantitative, data with which to objectively determine the nature of impacts, versus approaches that emphasise the facilitation of community participation and empowerment in planning and decision making (Craig 1990: Howitt 1989: Lane et al 1997). At stake in this debate is not merely a set of methodological arguments, but the question of what actually counts as a social impact and who may legitimately identify them. The central argument of this paper is that a variety of important social impacts are socially constructed through the processes of conflict and negotiation that emerge around major developments and policy interventions. This is particularly the case in relation to impacts associated with the meanings that are attached to spaces, activities and communities by those involved and, importantly, the meanings that are attached to proposed changes and to processes of change.

The cultural context for development or intervention is not a static system of rules, signs and norms that mayor may not manage to retain its authenticity, but a fluid, dynamic and contested network of social relationships and meanings. To the extent, therefore, that SIA processes become a focus for conflict and negotiation over the meaning of social change, it must be recognised that social impacts are actually constructed through the SIA process rather than merely being identified and evaluated through it.

The manner in which impacts are constructed through processes of social conflict involving SIA will be explored through an examination of the social and political environment of Central Queensland's Gladstone/Calliope region - in which an independent social impact assessment (ISIA) of proposed water infrastructure development was conducted during 1997-98 - with a particular focus on how this environment has influenced processes of conducting SIA.

Item ID: 31244
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1037-1656
Keywords: water infrastructure development, independent social impact assessment, ISIA, Gladstone/Calliope region, sustainable development
Funders: Queensland Department of the Premier and Cabinet (QDPC)
Date Deposited: 15 Mar 2016 04:36
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160801 Applied Sociology, Program Evaluation and Social Impact Assessment @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960506 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Fresh, Ground and Surface Water Environments @ 100%
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