Capital and symbolic power in water quality governance: stakeholder dynamics in managing nonpoint sources pollution

J Environ Manage. 2021 Jul 15;290:112587. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112587. Epub 2021 Apr 23.


Maintaining quantity and quality is a primary concern in the supply of drinking water. One critical indicator of water quality is nonpoint sources (NPS) pollution. However, persistent risks regarding water quality maintenance have often resulted from compounded social dynamics occurring within and between institutions, while solutions tend to concentrate on scientific/technological treatments. The present study aims to analyse the social dynamics operating within and between such institutions, with a particular focus on the management of NPS pollution that involves the participation of headwater residents. A qualitative case study was conducted on the management of the headwater in Taipei metropolis. The study applied Bourdieu's field theory to understand the mechanism of social interaction and diverse interests among stakeholders. Through in-depth interviews with stakeholders, this research investigated their perceptions regarding various water quality threats and treatments, also mechanisms and gaps in the implementation of NPS pollution-related policies. The study then interpreted emerging issues by considering the stakeholders' various forms of capital input, their strategies in capital exchange and accumulation, as well as the diverse symbolic powers in water quality governance. The research indicates that the ambiguous character of NPS pollution leads to diverse perceptions towards water quality risk, and the ambivalent strategies in negotiation also create barriers to stable stakeholder relationships. Consequently, the research suggests that technocratic-centred governance should also contain sociological perspectives on personal mentality and power dynamic in the society.

Keywords: Field theory; Headwater management; Nonpoint sources pollution; Public engagement; Water quality.

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water*
  • Non-Point Source Pollution*
  • Water Pollution
  • Water Quality


  • Drinking Water