Substance and Symbol: The Ethics of Water Use and Development in Oman
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This thesis explores the varying ethical perceptions of water use in Oman. For many populations living in the hyper-arid Arabian Peninsula, cultural and religious values require that people strictly limit their water use. Today after one generation of intense urbanization, Omanis still maintain these values of conservation, however they have also come to glorify water-intensive, urban lifestyles. I argue that people do not change their water usage based on actual scarcity or ability to consume, but rather based on the symbolism that their surrounding community attaches to their resource use. In urban and rural Oman competing symbols have been introduced that support two very different water ethics. To reduce cognitive dissonance, Omanis compartmentalize each ethic in relation to different community settings and go through a process of switching their ethical codes when traveling between the countryside and urban centers.