Dramaturgies for Re-imagining Murray-Darling Basin governing

Ison, Raymond L.; Rubenstein, Naomi; Shelton, Madeline R. and Wallis, Philip J. (2023). Dramaturgies for Re-imagining Murray-Darling Basin governing. Australasian Journal of Water Resources, 27(2) pp. 346–359.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13241583.2023.2171846


Historically, governing, and thus planning, the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) has been framed in a plethora of ways: as an exercise in sharing water between the Basin states, as nation-building, as a response to salinity, as a response to drought, as obtaining a balance between agricultural production, ecological integrity and communities and more recently as responding to potential climate change impacts, enabling cultural flows or evidencing improved integration between state and Commonwealth policy domains including drought policy, agricultural policy, regional development, bushfire and emergency planning, Closing the Gap, and environmental protection. Seemingly ‘the plan’ and planning has to be all things to all people, but the reforms, instituted in the Water Act 2007 (Cwlth), have resulted in greater complexity, uncertainty and controversy. Effective governing of the basin along an unfolding, viable trajectory within an Anthropocene-world seems more elusive than ever. In this context, we propose a research and praxis agenda for dramaturgy as an initiative that seeks ‘effective’ water governance in the MDB. A dramaturge is someone (or group, body or process) who writes or adapts a play, brings forth a particular type of performance set in an ever-changing audience/context. Dramaturges engage in praxis (theory-informed practical action). Two exemplar dramaturgies (‘competing rationalities’ and ‘citizen-driven self-organization’), developed through ex poste and ex ante analyses, are outlined. Each can be refined or consolidated in an on-going deliberative inquiry-process that generates social learning and effects concerted action for future MDB governance. Our research inquiry is exploratory but is based on a choice to frame governance from a cyber-systemic perspective, a praxis continually enacted through the interactions of actors, their symbols and frames and feedback dynamics between the social and biophysical world. We show how a dramaturgical framework can be used to analyse a policy process (both past and future) in order to reveal the important symbolic and performative dimensions, which are usually unrecognised.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions