Ecosystem Services as (Co-)performative Practice: Experiences from Integrated Water Management in Flanders

Ann Van Herzele*, Melissa Ceuterick, Marleen Buizer, Michael Leone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Environmental concepts are performative in that they help create the environment they describe. This paper explores the performativity of the ecosystem services concept in the field of integrated water management in Flanders (northern Belgium). The data was collected from 23 in-depth interviews with professionals in the field, conducted in two rounds with a five-year interval and complemented with on-site observations of practices applying the concept. Results indicate that ecosystem services was only marginally performative on its own, and rather was seen as a ‘co-performative concept’ that – in conjunction with existing concepts – could accelerate the envisioned integration process through promoting initiatives, mobilising stakeholders, shaping orientation, creating win-win situations, and more. Yet, despite these aspirations, the concept has in general failed to perform as expected. Many perceived ecosystem services as an academic concept, too complex for practical application. Common strategies were either to adapt the concept to fit one's professional context or to create a new practical context (a stakeholder workshop, for example) where the concept could function. The paper goes on to discuss the more general implications of the (pseudo-)malleability and context-dependence of the ecosystem services concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
JournalEcological Economics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Ecosystem services
  • Environmental concepts
  • Integrated Water Resources Management
  • Malleability
  • Performativity
  • Socio-technical agencement


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