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Anatomy of a buzzword: the emergence of ‘the water-energy-food nexus’ in UK natural resource debates

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journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-09, 03:09 authored by Rose Cairns, Anna Krzywoszynska
The existence of a water-energy-food ‘nexus’ has been gaining significant attention in international natural resource policy debates in recent years. We argue the term ‘nexus’ can be currently seen as a buzzword: a term whose power derives from a combination of ambiguous meaning and strong normative resonance. We explore the ways in which the nexus terminology is emerging and being mobilised by different stakeholders in natural resource debates in the UK context. We suggest that in the UK the mobilisation of the nexus terminology can best be understood as symptomatic of broader global science-policy trends, including an increasing emphasis on integration as an ideal; an emphasis on technical solutions to environmental problems; achievement of efficiency gains and ‘win-wins’; and a preference for technocratic forms of environmental managerialism. We identify and critique an ‘integrative imaginary’ underpinning much of the UK discourse around the concept of the nexus, and argue that attending to questions of power is a crucial but often underplayed aspect of proposed integration. We argue that while current efforts to institutionalise the language of the nexus as a conceptual framework for research in the UK may provide a welcome opportunity for new forms of transdisciplinary, they may risk turning nexus into a ‘matter of fact’ where it should remain a ‘matter of concern’. In this vein, we indicate the importance of critique to the development of nexus research.


Planetary Connections: ESRC Social Science of the Nexus Network Plus; G1334; ESRC-ECONOMIC & SOCIAL RESEARCH COUNCIL; ES/L01632X/1


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Environmental Science and Policy







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  • The Sussex Energy Group Publications

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