Sociology Department Colloquium: Maria Akchurin

Tue December 5th 2017, 12:30 - 1:50pm
Mendenhall 101

Please join us for a colloquium being given by Maria Akchurin from Tulane University.

Contested Water: Movement-Bureaucrat Linkages and Alternative Narratives Against Privatization in Argentina and Chile

In the 1990s, global private sector actors were introduced as local providers of water and sanitation services worldwide. In Latin America, three-quarters of countries adopted some form of water privatization with varying outcomes—some resulting in widespread social protests, others in relatively uncontested institutional change. Why was the privatization of water rejected in some settings but not others? Drawing on interviews, ethnography, and historical administrative data, this talk analyzes state-society responses to the implementation of water privatization, focusing on the cases of the metropolitan areas of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. In Latin America, Argentina and Chile had the two largest urban populations affected by pro-market policies in water supply and sanitation over the past thirty years. In Buenos Aires, privatization was rejected and replaced with a new public sector model, whereas in Santiago, it became the new norm for organizing urban water provision.

I argue that a) the type of social mobilization against privatization and b) movement linkages with regulatory bureaucrats in charge of overseeing the privatization process shaped the implementation and durability of water privatization, leading to divergent outcomes in the two cases. Where present, emergent alliances between a cross-class base of social movement groups and regulatory bureaucrats destabilized and delegitimized privatization, as well as creating alternative narratives about public services and the right to water. By contrast, where social movement actors were unable to build a broad-based alliance in civil society and encountered technocratic regulators at the time of privatization, privatized urban water services gradually became the new norm. This study contributes to our understanding of social responses to shifts in the organization of water and sanitation, and the evolution of state-society relations in the context of experiments with pro-market approaches to social and environmental policies.