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The role of social movements in developing public alternatives in urban water services Status

Doktorarbeit / Dissertation 2009 366 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Entwicklungspolitik


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Literature Review: the water and sanitation sector and urban water management
2.1. Approaching Urban Water and Sanitation
2.2. A sector in perpetual crisis
2.3. Gaps in current sector specific literature
2.4. Critical voices on water and sanitation sector policy
2.5. Proposals for research on democratisation of water sector policy

3. Conceptual Framework
3.1. The organisational field of urban water and sanitation
3.2. Water systems as a structural ensemble of the state
3.3. Politicised participation
3.4. Conceptualisation of social movements
3.5. Institutional change and public policy reform
3.6. Social appropriation as radical reformism of the sector
3.7. Summarising sector transformation

4. Methodology, Research Approach, Design and Review of the Process
4.1. Methodology
4.2. Development of the research approach
4.3. The research approach
4.4. The research design
4.5. The emergent research practice of politicised social movement research
4.6. Articulation of the research results at a movement conference

5. Data and Analysis I: The global water justice movement
5.1. Public water: heuristic discourse, emancipatory project and analytical category
5.2. The global water justice movement
5.3. The movement sector’s discourse
5.4. The movement project: local and transnational strategies
5.5. Summary and discussion of interim findings

6. Data and Analysis II: Typology
6.1. Introduction
6.2. The general typology of water struggles
6.3. The typology theory on appropriation struggles
6.4. Intermediate considerations for the case studies

7. Data and Analysis III: Case Study on Peru-Huancayo
7.1. Introducing the case study
7.2. The case narrative
7.3. Analysis: discourse, outcomes and impact
7.4. Discussion on findings
7.5. Typology theory development
7.6. Case study conclusions

8. Data and Analysis IV: Case Study on Uruguay
8.1. Introduction
8.2. The case narrative
8.3. Analysis: discourse, outcomes and impact
8.4. Discussion on findings
8.5. Typology theory development
8.6. Case study conclusions

9. Cross-case and combined analysis of public water struggles
9.1. Research findings
9.2. Re-considering the conceptual framework according to the findings
9.3. Research results: Typology theory of pro-public challenges

10. Conclusions: Public Water Struggles
10.1. Overview of thesis
10.2. Conclusions


Annex I: List of empirical data
Attendance of international conferences and seminars
Data set for case study Peru/Huancayo
Data set for case study Uruguay

Annex II: List of Publications
Conference Presentations

Annex III: Filled Meta Matrix

List of Boxes

Box 1 The term 'myth' in relation to counter-hegemonic social movements

Box 2 The term ’articulation’

Box 3 Knowledge tree close-up example of content

Box 4 Relevance of research for interdisciplinary sector approaches

Box 5 Elements of research

Box 6 Public-public partnerships

Box 8 The category of pro-public challenge

Box 7 General types of urban water movement strategies (General Typology)

Box 9 Types and cases

Box 10 Movement strategies of pro-public challenges

List of Diagrams

Diagram 1 Overview of thesis structure

Diagram 2 Visualisation of impact of contentious politics

Diagram 3 Movement frame for the democratisation of public water

Diagram 4 Interim generalised pathway

Diagram 5 Case-specific general pathway Huancayo

Diagram 6 Case-specific general pathway Peru

Diagram 7 Case-specific general pathway Uruguay

Diagram 8 Final, complete generalised pathway

Diagram 9 Final, condensed generalised pathway

List of Tables

Table 1 Preliminary matrix

Table 2 Initial generalisation

Table 3 Demand-results scheme Peru and Huancayo

Table 4 Case-specific matrix Peru and Huancayo

Table 5 Demand-results scheme Uruguay

Table 6 Case-specific matrix Uruguay

Table 7 Overview of case study findings

Table 8 Final matrix of typology theory

Table 9 Steps in the political process of pro-public challenges

Table 10 Filled-in meta matrix of typology development - 22 -

List of Pictures

Picture 1 "water is beautiful" at a protest march in Berlin

List of Acronyms

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1. Introduction

The background

Grassroots social conflict has been an important feature on the American continent (Vanden, 2007), as diverse struggles are emerging, specifically in Latin America, that resist neoliberal reforms (Heigl, 2007). On the issue of water management, these grassroots struggles have taken a dynamic trajectory in the past decade and are currently confronting significant changes. These changes are the result of the engagement of the social movements in public sector reforms to improve urban water and sanitation (WATSAN) (Bakker, 2007; Balanya et al., 2005; Castro, 2008; Hall et al. 2005; Spronk, 2005).

While the hegemony surrounding the privatisation and commercialisation of water seems to be weakening in many places (Ballvé and Prashad, 2006), the dominance of neoliberal policy and its inertial forces, meaning structural long-term influence, is still operative in water governance and management (Castro, 2007). As a result, community and public systems are still faced with pressures of privatisation, commercialisation and private sector participation while there are hardly any policy programmes or political debates about how best to improve the public and community sector without recourse to these three approaches (Balanya et al., 2005).

Indeed, the future path of development of urban water and sanitation is contested, increasingly so at the fundamental levels of discourse, norms and institutional frameworks. Rosenberger et al. (2003) argue that the key determinant of the path of development is the question as to whether water is to be considered an economic good or a commons. From this follow questions of which is more suited to effectively reform and improve water and sanitation systems, public or private provision? And assuming an actor’s perspective, which social actors will determine future policy and practice?

The starting point of the thesis

The three empirical starting points of the research are firstly the social movement actors and transnational networks, secondly the concrete struggles and politicisation of urban water and sanitation, and thirdly the general policy demands of the movements on urban WATSAN. Thus, the legitimising inspiration for the research stems from collective situations of struggles for public urban water and sanitation. I frame these by the notion of a ‘globalisation from below’ (Brecher and Costello, 1998), in which new agendas, frames and strategies and finally potentials for alternative paths of development can emerge. I address the phenomena of urban water struggles in terms of their historical development and framing of problems and solutions and thereby start from the conception of social purpose (Stevis and Assetto, 2001). I start from the need to reveal standpoints, values, preferences and capacities of these movement challengers to urban WATSAN, because they formulate a relevant political dimension whose impact can significantly affect political process and consequently paths of development of the field of urban water and sanitation.

Citizens and social scientists are confronted with an elementary conceptual question. Applying Smith’s argument (Smith, 1998) to the collective opposition to privatisation and challenges in favour of public water, one can ask if such resistance and challenges are merely harmless accidents and irrelevant deviations of neoliberal reforms that can be rationalised away? Or are they to be recognised “as subversive interruptions that demand a radical re-examination” (Smith, 1998, p.2)? In other words, do we acknowledge the de facto agency of citizens and workers to re-direct the path of development of water services? If one takes the movements for what they say they are, as Emanuel Castells proposes (Castells and Susser, 2002), namely politicised protagonists of effective public sector water delivery, then only the latter of Smith’s option is viable.

Consequently, the thesis is based on the assumption that research, water and sanitation sector (WSS) policy and development practice need to sensitise and focus on emerging opportunities for public service reform generated by movementisation of water politics. Movementisation is a concept that describes the transformation of political processes and structures under the influence of social movements (Jenkins and Klandermans, 1995). Considering the above in the light of recent trends of globalisation, it is judicious to turn attention to the way in which social action develops in transnational public spaces such as the World Social Forum (WSF), as Sen et al. (2004) have proposed, and transnational networks such as “Reclaiming Public Water”. More specifically concerning the WSS sector, one needs to ask with Rao et al. (2000) how movement-related policy and practice influence the organisation of urban water supply at local and national level.

Introducing the problem

Proponents and members of the water movements argue that the political struggle over water is necessary for the achievement of water for all (Barlow and Clarke, 2003). And indeed, the politicisation of urban WATSAN inside and outside of institutional channels of interest- mediation is a particular condition for many WATSAN systems and reform projects. But despite the recognition of the political character of WATSAN (Bakker, 2007; Castro and Heller, 2008; Seppala, 2002), the current state of knowledge cannot explain in how far this has considerable effect on the socialisation or social embedding of WATSAN systems and on the shape and outcome of reforms. I hold up that the political and professional debates on how to substantially improve water services do not recognise or understand the politicised form in which social movements participate in the reform of management and governance of urban water services.

One structural reason certainly is that such debates take place in the socio-political context of current reform agendas for urban water and sanitation, which can be conceived through the looking glass of globalisation and its discontents. Firstly, an evolving global governance of water, which Bronwen Morgan called “global water welfarism” (Morgan, 2006), shapes the debates about the future of public services. More than Morgan’s liberal emphasis suggests, this global hegemonic order aims at determining policy frameworks and at prescribing and enforcing the dominant programmes for structural change of urban WATSAN in the direction of privatisation, public-private partnerships (PPPs) and commercialisation of the public sector. This structural bias is due to the, albeit widely contested, hegemony of commercialisation and private sector participation in water reforms. A more systemic and far-reaching argument, which will not be discussed further in this research (for reasons of time, space and focus) but which is important to take note of, is that more generally the bourgeois-liberal political form of capitalist states and societies and their specific forms in peripheral, development states determine the shape and outcome of sector reforms.

As antipode, opposition and resistance to neoliberal reforms for urban WATSAN occur around the world. A reality to take into account is the emergence of a globalised water movement, which was symbolically affirmed in the declaration of a “Global Water Movement” (Peoples’ World Water Forum, 2004) in January 2004 during an international civil society conference held in New Delhi. It was a result of and represents the strengthening of global networks and manifold local manifestations of water movements across the globe. Empirical evidence on the 3 failure of neoliberal reforms, though inconclusive, theoretical disagreement, and differences in political interests nuture this resistance and opposition, as do a number of cases of successful reform outside neoliberal paradigms (see for example Balanya et al. 2005).

For these reasons, it is necessary to problematise urban social movements and their transnational networks in terms of the politicised form of participation they engender in the reform of governance and management of urban water and sanitation. The thesis’ preoccupation therefore lies in the way in which water movements can have a proactive and constructive role in the reform of management and governance of urban water and what their limitations and barriers are. Such a focus on the political process of social movement politics is a necessary starting point for the consideration of urban water movements at this early stage of research on and with these social movements. The problem to be addressed therefore is in how far urban water movements constitute an opportunity for transforming the path of development of urban water and sanitation. This is an important problem to address because their properties, ramifications and potential and their notion of a progressive, democratised public service remain hidden and little understood so far.

The core preoccupation of the thesis

This thesis critically engages with social movements struggling to, as they call it, democratise

public water (Balanya et al., 2005). I investigate their political processes and potential influence on urban sector reform and thereby aim to intervene critically in the organisational field of urban water and sanitation. The research question in this sense inquires into the role and potential of social movements in the emancipatory transformation of public water systems:

What is the role and influence of the social movements in exploring alternatives to urban water privatisation1 ?

A more specific research question asks for the political process through which water movements have an impact on progressive2 urban WATSAN reform.

The focus of inquiry lies on transnational networks of social movements (for an overview see Della Porta 2005) and their local materialisations in the form of appropriation struggles (Zeller 2004). These I consider as social movements building counter-power to generate and implement radical transformations (Demirovic, 2007; Poulantzas et al., 2000) of public water systems. The specific aim of the research is to critically support collective learning and reflection of global networks and local struggles.

The relevance of the thesis for WSS practitioners and decision-makers lies in translating perspectives of social movement studies into the domain of participation and vice versa. In order to do so, I employ participatory research methodology and an emerging practice of activist research. In agreement with Lauclau and Mouffe (2001), the research breaks with the apparent truths that claim the conjunctural state of affairs to be historical necessity. It does not take for granted the ideological terrain that has been created by decades of neoliberal hegemony. Instead it aims to open windows of perception, understanding and in consequence possibility for the democratisation of public water systems.

The structure and content of the thesis

The thesis structure is set out visually in Diagram 1. Chapter 1 being this introduction, Chapter 2 contains a literature review on sector specific literature and specifically develops the arguments put forward in critical social science literature on WSS policy. The chapter identifies existing gaps in research and leads in critical social science literature towards the specific research question of this research. It concludes with a Diagram 1 Overview of thesis structure proposal for a broad progressive research agenda on democratisation of WSS that frames the more specific preoccupation of this thesis.

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On this basis, Chapter 3 constructs a conceptual framework that considers WSS as an organisational field and conceptualises WATSAN by means of material state theory and circumscribes the actions of social movements as social appropriation that involves the radical reform of WSS. Such a perspective emphasises the agency of social movements and aims to reconsider sector reform in terms of politicisation. A framework of politicised participation focuses on constructive partnerships between social movements, water professionals, sector institutions, and policy makers in order to open perspectives of constructing public-democratic paths of development for urban water and sanitation. I do so without losing sight of the contentious nature of social movement intervention.

Chapter 4 explains the methodological choice and the research approach, illustrating the problem statement, explaining the research question and clarifying the research design. A third part of the chapter reviews the emerging research practice as a work-in-progress conceptualisation of a practice of politicised movement research.

Chapters 5 to 8 contain the three empirical research steps of global discourse analysis, comparative typology and two local case studies. The examination of transnational networks and their discourses in Chapter 5 identifies a distinctive movement sector that resists privatisation, supports the human right to water and demands the democratisation of public water systems. An interim finding is that at global network level, the movements experience a shift in discourse from a limited anti-privatisation stance towards a propositional and pro- active discourse on ‘public water’. I locate public water as heuristic discourse and as a counterhegemonic political project that is under construction in the global movement sector. I develop the argument that these networks are structurally dependent on the effectiveness of localised social movements to protect and appropriate public water utilities.

Having done so, I move to Chapter 6, where I additionally employ public water as an analytical category. In this next step, the thesis further analyses the above mentioned intermediate findings. I employ typology theory to build a comparative framework for local struggles where alternatives to privatisation emerge as discrete demands and concrete political strategies. I thereby inquire into the characteristics, potentials and scope of applicability of localised appropriation struggles for public water. Chapter 6 develops interim findings that are presented as conceptual inputs to the case studies that follow in Chapters 7 and 8.

In Chapter 7, Peru is an embedded case study where the national policy level and the political struggle around the water utility in Huancayo, in the department of Junín, are analysed. Over the course of the research process, Huancayo emerged as an embedded focal point. On the one hand, the national policy level offers insights into national-level strategies of trade unions and citizen movements to gain policy access and to go beyond defensive campaigns towards a nationally articulated demand for public water. On the other, the case of Huancayo offers a detailed analysis of local politics of utility reform. It sheds light on the role and potentials of local urban movements to challenge privatisation and develop and implement alternative public models. The case study analyses movement organisation, political process, alternative models, to a lesser extent, and international solidarity in the form of public-public partnerships.

In Chapter 8, the case of Uruguay begins with the successful national referendum campaign in 2005 that made water privatisation illegal by constitutional law. The analysis focuses on the process of implementation of the new constitutional norms in state institutions and legislation, and the organisation of water and sanitation delivery.

In Chapter 9 the research findings and results are developed and discussed. These comprise the analysis of transnational movement articulations, the typology theory development and the in-depth case analyses. The primary result is mid-range theory that explores and conceptualises the role and influence of movementisation on urban water and sanitation reform. I synthesise the category of ‘pro-public challenge’ and thereby offer a systematic framework for the phenomenon of movementisation of urban water politics and the emergence, articulation and implementation of public water alternatives. Considering the domains of participation and governance, the argument put forward is that social movements need to further establish their agency in the form of politicised participation, which is the central concept I develop in order to systemise the engagement of movements in the democratisation of public water systems. So, not only do I develop new insights for participation and social movement studies with relevance to WSS but I also undertake a knowledge-based intervention in the organisational field of urban WATSAN. These insights are summarised in Chapter 10.

2. Literature Review: the water and sanitation sector and urban water management

Chapter 2 contains a literature review on urban water and sanitation systems and water governance and discusses sector specific literature for its adequacy of understanding the systemic impediments to sector improvement. A review of critical social science literature discusses WSS policy, highlighting issues of sector transformation through privatisation policies since the 1990s. On these bases, the chapter develops a proposal for a broad progressive research agenda on democratisation of WSS that frames the more specific preoccupation of this thesis.

2.1.Approaching Urban Water and Sanitation


The Urban

The urban environment is characterised by density of population, social networks, concentration of space and a variety of economic activities and lifestyles (McGranahan and Marcotullio, 2005). The urban can be understood as a process of socio-ecological change where myriad transformations and metabolisms support and maintain urban life and intermingle material, social and symbolic things "to produce a particular socio-environmental milieu that welds nature, society and the city together in a deeply heterogeneous, conflicting and often disturbing whole" (Swyngedouw and Heynen, 2003, 899). Urban space from an ecosystems perspective “does not simply exist, it is instead a social creation” (Campbell and Fainstein, 1996, p.10), one that determines the character of the built environment and that generates specific urban conditions for human life, development and biophysical systems.

Urbanisation is a key global demographic trend and poses serious problems with respect to ecosystems, human well-being and social justice, with distinct spatial dimensions (McGranahan and Marcotullio, 2005). “Within urban areas, the primary issue from the perspective of human well-being is whether the urban settlements provide a healthy and satisfying living environment for residents” (McGranahan and Marcotullio, 2005, p.805). In particular, urbanisation generates serious challenges for water and sanitation services. It brings about a rising demand for urban water and sanitation services by informal networks, small scale providers and centralised utilities (Moretto, 2007) and in developing countries has led to shortages of water resources and basic infrastructure for provision of urban household, 8 industrial and commercial water supply. Thus, urbanisation and its effects on urban water services will increasingly affect the daily life of urban populations (Khan and Siddique, 2000). This is especially the case as urbanisation in the developing world is much related to the failure of responsible agencies, which have left multitudes with insufficient and unsafe services while upper echelons of society tend to be serviced by centralised systems (Malama and KazimbayaSenkwe, 2004). In this way, urban water and sanitation produce and reproduce in a material, political-ecological and socio-economic sense the above mentioned complex and conflicting socio-environment of the city. Rapid urban growth and the urban environment assign to cities a fundamental role for development, wherein cities form a locus for civil society organisations that often have to cope with service shortcomings (Moretto, 2007).

Defining urban WATSAN systems

Above, the urban was understood as metabolism and so urban WATSAN is understood as an

intermingling of material, social and symbolic things, centred on the institutions, organisations, daily practices, material infrastructure and the environment. The concept of water and sanitation encapsulates water and sewage, whereas the more general term sanitation includes solid waste management (Malama and Kazimbaya-Senkwe, 2004). WATSAN services and their shortcomings haven an impact on the lives of urban populations and are set within economic, environmental, governance and financial contexts (Cavill and Sohail, 2003).

In this thesis, the term urban WATSAN systems is employed to refer to the complex, interwoven and contradictory interplay of political structures, regulative systems and service providers, which can be centralised utilities of different property relations (public and private) , informal networks and community-based or local private sector small scale providers and selfhelp systems. Cavill and Sohail (2003) indicate that municipal authorities are usually responsible for urban services, although various forms of provision, including the private sector, are possible. In addition, urban services can also be the responsibility of other government levels, such as national or regional governments. What is important to note is that generally government roles are central to the provision of urban WATSAN services. And that is the case because they are political and social issues (McGill, 1998).

Urban WATSAN systems are conceptually divided between their management and governance. For the purposes of this thesis, I employ this simple division between management, which refers to the acts of managing a certain utility or informal water infrastructure, and governance, which refers to broader socio-political forms of regulation and control of WATSAN systems and is explained below in more detail. Concerning water and sanitation, the three interrelated and essential components of water institutions are water law, water policy, and water administration (Saleth and Dinar, 2000; see also Seppala, 2002).

Urban water governance

Urban management was the overwhelming focus in development studies in the mid 1990s and was treated as a new ethos and key approach in urban development (Werna, 1995, p.353). Today, the buzzword governance (Moretto, 2007) has joined if not overshadowed urban management as the predominant approach to urban development (in respect to water issues see for example UNESCO, 2006). The emergence of governance as a key approach to development is discussed by Franks and Cleaver as the "result of a recognition of the changing nature and role of the state in a globalized and interconnected world” (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292). Governance is understood as a distinct form of government where two connotations are important and according to Moretto (2007) enjoy large consensus. Firstly, it is understood to be broader than government and secondly to involve civil society. In relation to urban services, governance highlights the emergence of new modes of engagement of civil society actors and multiple stakeholders in the search for efficient service systems (Moretto, 2007).

Governance provides a way of conceptualizing this emerging network of relationships between different sectors and interests in society, enabling us to analyze how governments, the public and private sectors, civil society, citizens groups and individual citizens forge networks and linkages to provide new ways for society to order itself and manage its affairs (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292).

A critical point in the discussion on the concept of governance is that it can either be a concept in the search for an accurate analysis and discussion of current socio-political developments or it can be a concept that normatively guides and pre-concludes socio-political processes and transformations.

Debating ‘good governance’

Indeed, the emphasis on the importance of governance in development thinking is due to the political project of ‘good governance’ (Moretto, 2007) that includes a normative set of principles (Leftwich 1994) with a neoliberal background such as accountability, transparency and probity (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292). It is a strategy and reform objective in itself and conditionality for donors involving a specific normative connotation (Castro, 2005; Harpham and Boateng, 1997; Moretto, 2007). Leftwich (1994) traces the 'good governance' agenda as advocated by the World Bank back to the experience of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) in the 1980s and the expansion of the neoliberal approach to include not only economic issues but also specifically political ones.

Good water governance (Franks and Cleaver, 2007) is today embodied in international development targets such as the sector focus of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Ministerial Declaration of the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico that hold that “the provision of water services for all is beyond the reach of governments and the public sector” (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.291). It represents a political project of a neoliberal type of governance, clad in the dress of neutral scientific analysis with the aim of developing new modes of accumulation and regimes of regulation that restructure the sector towards liberalisation and commercialisation of water services. This involves the definition of what are and how to produce good outcomes of good water governance (Franks and Cleaver, 2007) and how to involve the poor in a governance system. In effect, good governance incorporates the pressure by external donors towards liberal democratisation that tends to be accompanied by privatisation. It is thus a controversial political and administrative means of reform (Moretto, 2007). The concept and political project of ‘good governance’ are dominant and dominance (re-) producing notions that cannot capture and are indeed diametrically opposed to social movement politics.

Governance as neutral analytical tool

According to Spicer (2007), approaches to governance like that advocated recently by public management authors generally neglect the nature of politics and downplay the inherently political character of governance. The explanation for this detrimental circumstance is that they ignore the conflicts of values and the uncertainty of politics and government (Spicer, 2007). In contrast, governance has also come to stand for a perspective that explores alternatives to hierarchically organised or market-driven systems of urban service provision.

For example, the notion of urban governance, according to Moretto (2007) opened perspectives on “more actors, together with those belonging to the community sector, to be included in this process whilst also bringing attention to the broad range of formal as well as informal relationships amongst these numerous actors" (Moretto 2007, p.346). While this, for urban WATSAN systems, typically refers to affairs like public-private partnerships, which as will be demonstrated below, are part and parcel of the neoliberal agenda. It nevertheless opens perspectives on the failures of both state and market provisions that have often proved inefficient.

When governance is freed from its neoliberal bias and employed in the search for an accurate analysis and discussion of current socio-political developments, it can open the view and refer to reforms of public water systems through the intervention of urban social movements, as they are problematised in this thesis. But the latter are not typically covered by governance perspectives. This research attempts to redeem this lack of integration of social movement politics and governance for the area of urban WATSAN systems. According to Franks and Cleaver, core concepts of governance have so far not been sufficiently and clearly developed in scientific literature because of the aforementioned neoliberal bias and because governance and water governance issues are also debated under concepts such as rights, integrated water resource management, participation and partnerships (Franks and Cleaver, 2007).

Concepts of governance by Harpham and Boateng (1997) and Franks and Cleaver (2007) are more neutral than good governance approaches and aim at accurate analysis of changing social formations. But they still significantly lack integration of collective action and social movements as particular agents in governance and management of urban WATSAN systems. Nevertheless, they are points of reference for pluralist approaches to governance and allow for perspectives on the action space between governments and civil society as an important element to consider for governance of urban WATSAN systems (Harpham and Boateng, 1997).

A useful and widely accepted definition (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292) of water governance is that governance stands for: the range of political, social, economic and administrative systems that are in place to develop and manage water resources, and the delivery of water services, at different levels of society.

It comprises a range of systems including government and public services and services provided by other sections of society. In the context of developing countries, urban WATSAN systems indeed, as argued above, are characterised by complex provision structures commonly shared by public, small scale private sector and informal, collective and community providers and self-help systems and resemble systems in that they relate and link to each other through political processes. Water governance delivers "a range of outcomes (‘water resources’ as well as ‘water services’), which go far beyond the management functions of individual organizations or groups” (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292) at different levels of society. It recognises that outcomes may be different at different levels.

This is an important consideration as it allows for a theoretical understanding that “the poor may need special treatment in the working out of governance systems” (Franks and Cleaver, 2007, p.292). However, there is a lack of understanding of what processes are involved in the relationship of the various systems of governance and how they lead to the level of management of water services and water resources. Issues of localisation and contextualisation need to be, according to Franks and Cleaver (2007), more fully integrated into the thinking about governance systems and their development in local practice.

2.2.A sector in perpetual crisis

The failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals

According to the World Development Report of 2006 (UNDP, 2006), accessibility of clean and safe water to every household has for decades been a main concern for social development. It is also considered in the same report as a basic needs and a social human right. In contrast, Gleick (1998) argues that the 21st century faces one of the most fundamental but unmet conditions of human development: universal access to basic water services. Despite the aforementioned decades long preoccupation by ‘development`, the global access figures on water and sanitation remain roughly constant since 1990 (World Health Organisation, 2000). At the beginning of the year 2000, there were 1.1 Billion people without safe water and 2.4 billion people without access to proper sanitation (World Health Organisation, 2000). And in 2006 the global estimation even increased to more than 1 billion people who are denied the right to clean water and 2.6 billion people who lack access to adequate sanitation (UNESCO, 2007a; UNDP, 2006).

The United Nations established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in order to confront these major challenges (Plummer and Slaymaker, 2007). Target 10 concerns water specifically: “Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation” (UNDP 2006). Some progress has been made but it has been at a much slower pace and regionally more disparate then projected. Particularly, the lack of progress in the poorest countries is of concern while urbanisation and population growth counteract improvements where they do exist, so that overall access numbers do not improve (Plummer and Slaymaker, 2007). According to the World Development Report of 2006, the prognosis for meeting the MDGs is that while Latin America is broadly on track, Sub- Saharan Africa, the worst off region of the world, will reach the water target only in 2040 and the sanitation target in 2076. The water target will be missed by 234 million people with 55 countries off track. The sanitation target will be missed by a staggering 430 million people in 74 countries. Only because of the progress in China and India is the world on track for the target for water in aggregate global terms. But only East Asia and Latin America are on track for sanitation. The global figures hide substantial regional and national variations (UNDP, 2006).

While the MDGs are merely minimum targets set by the world community, they leave a large global deficit even if they are met. Access to WATSAN services is particularly a problem for urban slum populations, who only have 5 to 10 litres per person per day at his or her disposal. In contrast, middle- or high-income households may use some 50 to 150 litres per day, if not more. More than 900 million people live in urban slums, nearly a third of all urban dwellers worldwide (UNESCO, 2007a).

Sector specific debates on the reasons of the crisis

For countries off track Plummer (Plummer and Slaymaker, 2007, p.2) relates the scenario to ‘fragile states’ and identifies the need for action to save lives and to address historical inequalities. For countries on track, the challenge according to the same author is to target regions, communities and households that are marginalised while also sustaining existing service structures’ quality and reliability. It is not clear why the division between on and off track countries includes the fact that historical inequalities are a key factor for those off track and not for those on track, as certainly the existing pockets of lack of access concern population groups anywhere in the world who have been marginalised, poor and repressed for a long time (using an expression of Spronk 2007) and thus did not have the means to make their voices and demands heard over other groups. Overall however I agree with Plummer and Slaymaker that it will be significantly harder to reach more improvements as the easily targeted problems have been tackled (Plummer and Slaymaker, 2007).

The failure to meet the MDGs come as no surprise as this is not the first time that international declarations have been made and targets failed. The 1970s and 1980s saw a series of conferences under the slogan ´Water and sanitation for all´, which also fell far below the aimed for targets (UNDP, 2006). UNESCO considers the main reason for this failure to meet the MDG’s to be that it addresses the symptoms of inadequate provision of water services and dwindling water resources (...), but root causes are rarely addressed, such as unequal power balances, unfair trade patterns between and within countries, as well as deficits of democratization (UNESCO, 2007b). The typical framework in which international development aims to effect improvements of WATSAN are, next to official development assistance, the combination of the MDGs with Poverty Reduction Strategies and other international tools and mechanisms. These are galvanised into national water policy reform and local government and sector reforms (Franks and Cleaver, 2007).

Such a traditional development approach does not seem sufficient to address underlying questions of power and social relations. There are strong associations between poverty and lack of access to safe water and sanitation (Blakely et al., 2005) and as a result access inequalities in urban areas are related to the underlying reasons of poverty, which are also about power and power relations. The crisis of access to WATSAN is often due to dysfunctional sector policies and institutions as well as insufficient investment in water services making the crisis of access improvement a crisis of governance (Plummer and Slaymaker, 2007; UNESCO, 2007b). The failure to meet the MDGs can be read as a failure of the approaches to governance that underline the MDGs. Similar to the limited reflection in the canon of academic work on the MDGs, the failures of WATSAN service development in general are not adequately reflected upon.

A critique of sector specific debates

WSS literature tends to be fully embedded in the dominant discourse community of the organisational field of urban WATSAN. Castro argues that such specialised WSS literature fails to criticise mainstream WSS policies or to highlight external factors and conditions that affect WSS (Castro, 2007). In this way sector specific literature can in fact pose a barrier to important debates about structural impediments of WSS because it remains restricted within a framework of thinking about water management, governance and policy that is set by international organisations such as the World Bank, not least by their international publications mentioned above. At the same time as drawing out in detail the inadequacy of urban water and sanitation provision, which is to be welcomed, international organisations like UN-Habitat set the dominant or hegemonic frame in which these debates of technical and technocratic character take place.

The typical frame of argument in general underestimates the seriousness and scope of the problem of urban water services and that the posture of governments and international agencies is not sufficient (compare UN-Habitat, 2003). Factors that hinder improvements of urban WATSAN are typically discussed under the headers of poor management, inefficient investment, social inequalities and dysfunction of politics (World Health Organisation, 2000). Overall, there is a clear identification of the barriers as institutional and political. “(T)he barriers to improved provision are not so much technical or financial but institutional and political” (UN-Habitat, 2003, p.xvii). But these sector specific approaches fall back on positivist research and technocratic arguments despite recognising the political dimensions. The lack of input into this field by critical research on geography, political ecology and political sociology is striking.

This in effect means that an understanding is perpetuated that holds the urban WATSAN crisis as a crisis of governance that can be addressed by development intervention in the form of state action and international commitment to act. The reliance on good governance and established international development norms and mechanisms are fundamental pillars in this regard. This demonstrates that the recognition of the crisis of governance is only a superficial recognition of political issues rather than a full consideration of politics and politicisation. It is not understood as an overall crisis of water governance that requires a total rethinking of development and approaches to water governance, as I would suggest is necessary.

The resulting inadequacy of policy

This assessment needs to be considered in relation to the question about the appropriateness of policy, which is related to the socio-political and institutional situation a policy is applied to and the attitudes and perceptions of the involved actors. This means that the concept of appropriate policy is not universal and cannot be generalised. The policy must be appropriate to the particular social, environmental and economic context in which it is implemented. With regards to water and sanitation policy, the implementation of policies has not been very successful (Seppala, 2002). This is attributed to the difficulty of changing “informal institutions such as attitudes, human and organizational behaviour, codes of conduct and behavioural patterns" (Seppala, 2002, p.369). Adequate policy development and institutional frameworks and implementation and donor strategies need to take into account the fact that much water and sanitation policy has not been appropriate. This relates especially to the plans for implementation of policy in relation to institutional frameworks. 16

What needs to be taken into account is that "(p)olitical, institutional and social questions are often more difficult and challenging than technical ones" (Seppala, 2002, p.374). Water policy development is inherently political and requires political will to drive the process. High- technical skills are a requirement for adequate and successful reform but political endorsement and support are key elements in policy development and recognition of political conflict over water is crucial for successful policy and its implementation. "Water policy development and reform is primarily a politically- not technically-driven process" (Seppala, 2002, p.379). Sector reform depends on institutional change and its elements. It entails an incremental change and long-term path of change, for which appropriate policy is required. Indeed, policy making in water and sanitation is directed towards the institutions and organisations of the sector but on the basis of good governance approaches and the hegemonic framework in the field and as such is unlikely to un-freeze policy failure.

2.3.Gaps in current sector specific literature

While literature recognises the difficulties of existing water sector structures, processes and to a lesser extent politics, research in general remains oblivious of contextual factors and the broader generalised questions on the social meaning, political embedding and political ecology of urban WATSAN in capitalist, peripheral and development states. Especially sector specific literature often neither recognises nor understands urban WATSAN as a conflictive field of capitalist production and reproduction and therefore cannot perceive the contested nature of WSS. In consequence, the historical choice between neoliberal sector reform, perpetuated public sector malfunction in capitalist peripheral states and the struggles and development dynamics for the democratisation of the public sector are not seen.

While responsibility of public authorities for WSS and urban WATSAN systems is widely recognised, their embedding in social structures and thus socio-political process is not sufficiently heeded. The recognition of the crisis of governance in WSS only occurs through a superficial recognition of political issues. The hegemonic frame of debate does not allow for full consideration of politics and politicisation. This results in the detrimental scenario where water institutions of law, policy, and administration are not investigated in the light of the nature of politics and the inherently political character of governance. In result, research tends to ignore the conflicts of values and the uncertainty of politics and government. Nevertheless, debates on governance have opened the way to reforms of public water systems through the emerging network of relationships between different sectors and interests in society, including intervention of urban social movements.

What is required is the taking account of political, institutional and social questions in WSS and urban WATSAN reform. Even pluralist approaches to governance still significantly lack the full integration of contentious collective action and social movements as particular agents in governance and management of urban WATSAN systems. This is despite the fact that they are necessary for the full appreciation of the action space between governments and civil society. In particular the contextualisation of such action spaces for poor and repressed populations is least understood.

2.4.Critical voices on water and sanitation sector policy

The limitation of sector specific debates

The literature review suggests that the ongoing crisis of urban WATSAN cannot be grasped by positivist (research) agendas that are predominant in WSS specific literature. Hukka and Katko’s (2003) argument resonates this finding and argues that the complexity of water management means that positivist research is inadequate. Instead, it perpetuates existing power relations and tends to be part of the dominant political project of neoliberalising water. It is a barrier to change in the organisational field because it leads to a neglect of critical issues such as ecology, politics, power relations and structural factors affecting and affected by WSS. Positivist research does so in the context of competition between rival political projects:

To a large extent, ongoing debates about the most appropriate institutional arrangements to deal with water and sanitation have little to do with ecological processes or social practices. Water and sanitation services are subject to rival political projects rooted in different principles and value systems (Allen et al., 2006, p.338).

While some sector-specific authors do recognise conflict and politics as fundamental features of water systems and recognise the need for adequate institutions to confront the political realities (i.e. Braathen, 2006), this tends to occurs in the specific form of what Jessop calls naturalising neoliberalism (Jessop, 2002, p.468). Thereby, globalisation, competition and technological change are depersonalised and appear as natural, unchangeable conditions. The result is that people and decision-makers seemingly have no choice but to adapt to these dominant agendas. Positivist research perpetuates this lack of choice by failing to develop critical knowledge.

Such processes of naturalising neoliberalism in WSS are visible in the debate about the ongoing failure to overcome the water and sanitation crisis, as was shown by the example of the governance debate in WSS. Jessop (2002) describes that blame for economic and social problems, such as the WATSAN crisis, is attributed to localized problems and ineffective local administration instead of being debated, as should be the case, as result of capitalist relations and structural factors. Such clearly takes place in WSS debates and academic literature (for the most part at least), where the failure to meet the MDGs for example is held to be a conjunctural problem of water governance rather than the result of the capitalist relations that underline the water sector. The detrimental result is that the deep politicisation of urban WATSAN as object of struggle and "the economic, political, and social forces that drive these processes" (Jessop, 2002, p.468) are hidden and thereby excluded from the debate.

Going beyond sector specific debates to capture water neoliberalism

In contrast, critical science literature on WATSAN considers the structural reasons for the WSS crisis in the existing capitalist-developmental societies and the resulting social contestations in terms of democratic movements (Castro, 2008; Hall et al. 2005; Morgan, 2005, 2006; Spronk 2005, 2007), rights approaches (Davidson-Harden et al. 2007; Morgan, 2004), political- economic (Bakker, 2003a, 2005; Budds and McGranahan, 2003; Castro, 2007; Castro et al. 2003; Morgan, 2007), geo-political (Davidson-Harden et al., 2007), community-citizenship (Bakker, 2008), and political ecological perspectives (Bakker, 2003a, 2005; Budds, 2004; Köhler, 2008; Swyngedouw, 2004). These approaches develop a cogent critique of the conceptual weaknesses of neoliberal sector approaches (for example Bakker 2005) and maintain that the last decades saw a neoliberal restructuring of the water sector that by force sought to liberalise, privatise and commercialise the sector.

Castro (2007) argues, on the bases of the conclusions of a broad research project (PRINWASS), that this neoliberal restructuring was not focused on solving sector problems but was biased to neoliberal ideology and neglected historical dimensions and lessons. In addition to the arguable failure of PSP policies, neoliberal restructuring of the sector generated structural impacts in the form of “inertial forces” (Castro, 2007, p.105) that continue to influence the sector in the long run, thereby creating new obstacles for the universalisation of WATSAN services.

Indeed, neoliberalising water should be understood as a political project from above that seeks

to implement a post-Fordist, neoliberal accumulation regime in the water sector. It aims at the disembedding of water systems from their socio-public contexts and their dis-appropriation into the capitalist economy; thus creating new markets, accumulation opportunities (private investment) and new means of controlling economic development. This occurs through the dismantling and weakening of existing sector structures (roll-back) and the extension of new forms of water governance, management and control (roll-out neoliberalism) (see Peck and Tickell, 2002 for an explanation of roll back and roll out neoliberalism).

Preoccupation with anti-neoliberal forces in the field

Davidson-Harden et al. (2007) description of the global water justice movement understands it as a counter-hegemonic movement of water justice. Correlating with this, the dichotomy between the dominant project of neoliberalisation of WSS and the counter-hegemonic movements from below has been recognised by Bakker (2003b), Castro (2005; 2008), Spronk (2007) and Morgan (2005). Morgan (2005) explains this with consumer politics that generate struggles against the routinisation of private sector participation and the emerging neoliberal global governance approach the author refers to as “global water welfarism” (Morgan, 2005, p.382). As Castro points out, this was in fact an act of force, as neoliberal policies were pushed with militancy against resistances (Castro, 2007). The field is shaped by conflict, struggle and disruption (Morgan, 2005), which Köhler (2008) argues are about the dimensions of resource conflicts, political ecological and neoliberal accumulation.

Davidson-Harden et al. (2007), Köhler (2008) and Morgan (2005) argue that there is a struggle over meaning that Budds (2004) , Köhler (2008), Swyngedouw (2004a) and Balanya et al. (2005) argue to fill with a critical re-definition of water as public good, the commons and a human rights approach. Castro (2007) points out that anti-privatisation movements did not solely develop on a frame of anti-corporatism but multiple factors have led to widespread opposition, such as the authoritarian style of implementation of PSP, the absence of participation, corruption and the growing evidence of the failure of privatisation. Castro goes on to argue that the anti-privatisation movement is more than anti-corporate in the sense that it is positioned against the mercantile social relations that are being embedded in the water sector (Castro, 2007).

Identifying the gaps in knowledge

Given the alerted preoccupation with the capitalist expansion into the water sector, what has been lacking also in critical social science literature is deliberation on the capitalist socialisation of water in public and community institutions and the systemic role of public service delivery in capitalist (re-)production. One reason is that the critique of water neoliberalism falls back, necessarily so, on a defence of Fordist state structures and thereby runs the risk of not sufficiently understanding the role that the state and public services play in securing capitalist economies and political stability. What is required therefore is critical re-evaluation of the role of the state and the type of state and community required for progressive public water systems.

In addition, the counter-hegemonic struggles are understood to pose new challenges as they generate an impetus for change from below that so far they have not been able to meet. Castro argues that social movements need to “take charge of the unmet promises of renovation and expansion of infrastructure “ (Castro, 2007, p.108) while Harden et al. argue that social movements need to meet the exigencies of a new geopolitics of water by articulating a “commons-based water management approach” (Davidson-Harden et al., 2007, p.32) alongside a human rights approach and thereby assume power in the redefinition of water policy that they read as a “current struggle for hegemony in the definition of water” (Davidson-Harden et al., 2007, p.31).

In this regard, Bakker (2008) argues that the social contestation generates a renewed reference point of the community and argues for ‘alternative community economies of water’ that overcome the public-private divide and can develop a commons approach on the basis of the articulation of anti-globalisation frames. Castro (2007) argues that the universalisation of WATSAN requires the re-affirmation of principles of universalism and strong public sector intervention focused on supporting local authorities and communities. Köhler (2008) recognises that there exists a wealth of alternative experiences of social appropriation of public management forms and argues that these need to be further developed and explored through political practice.

All these different concepts and approaches to a new, progressive understanding of water and social movements as protagonists can be summarised by what de Angelis (2007) coined as ‘new value practices’. This concept positions these approaches outside of capital relations and understands them as dependent on organisational proposals and processes of transformations. Morgan argues that such perspectives on struggles integrate the politics of consumption and production (Morgan, 2006, p.412) but finds that:

This history creates an apparent opportunity for social movements to play a co-equal role with powerful market actors in debates over how to embed markets in broader social policies that temper their harshest distributive effects. Yet what eventuates in the South African case is not productive collaboration, but instead fractious parallel trajectories of legislative change and social protest that occasionally intersect but largely co-exist in uneasy tension.

Despite her reservations, Morgan argues that movement actions can potentially alter the understanding of public policy issues and address political representation issues in a way that has prevented global water welfarism, in other words the neoliberalisation of water services, to materialise in state institutions locally. Morgan’s perspective on consumer politics is limited however as it expects social movements to adhere to the logic of consumer politics instead of developing their own frames of rights and social justice demands and ends by lamenting that the figure of the consumer does not resonate at a political level and with social movements.

Despite the weakness of the concept of consumer politics, this analysis shows that grassroots politics can have an impact on the water sector in a way that counters the institutional and organisational impact of water neoliberalism. But whereas literature on functioning public alternative models has grown in recent years (Balanya, 2005; da Costa et al., 2008; Hall, 2001, 2003, 2005), there is hardly any literature that goes beyond the abovementioned generalised, conceptual and heuristic treatments of water struggles.

While some informative case studies on the processes of water struggles exist (for example Morgan, 2006; Terhorst, 2003; Spronk, 2007), there is so far no sufficient academic preoccupation on how social movements are to meet and are meeting the demands and expectations they raised themselves. This is exactly the gap of knowledge both in WSS specific literature and critical social science literature on water that this research identifies and aims at filling: the political process and means by which social movements aim to meet their demands and self-imposed expectation of delivering new models of public-community water through counter-hegemonic struggles. Their existence is an accepted fact but their detailed analysis remains an open task.

2.5.Proposals for research on democratisation of water sector policy

I now develop a proposal for research on democratisation of WSS policy. These recommendations draw on the insights of the reviewed literature in this chapter. Its function for the thesis is to contextualise my research problem and specific research approach. The proposal I aim to develop in this section encapsulates a broad agenda of research on public- community water, social struggles and alternatives. It is based on the recognition that WSS specific literature so far is inadequate in this regard and that critical science only offers a broad frame of reference. It is a framework by which I aim to argue for a change in scientific preoccupation. It is also a tool to articulate and locate my research in relation to other research projects and ongoing political debates. Before turning to the agenda itself, I develop a series of inputs by post-Gramscian International Political Economy (IPE), material state theory and organisation theory.

Explaining the rationale

Research should understand urban WATSAN as an organisational field that is contested and into which research intervenes. In contrast, today the problem of research on urban WATSAN is that it tends to be based on liberal assumptions, is positivist, scattered and disconnected from global debates on politics, of which it is itself an integral part. I argue that this is because liberal research approaches do not recognise the historical choice between neoliberal sector reform, perpetuated public sector malfunction in capitalist peripheral states and the struggles and development dynamics for the democratisation of the public sector. Research cannot take for granted current forms of socialisation of WATSAN.


1 Privatisation is used here as a generalised term to describe diverse processes that affect ownership, control and logics of operation of public service delivery that result from asset privatisation, publicprivate partnerships and the commercialisation of public water operations.

2 Progressive refers to the anti-neoliberal politics oriented against privatisation, liberalisation and commercialisation of water resources and water services aiming at the democratisation and universalisation of urban WATSAN through public-democratic institutions and delivery systems.


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Loughborough University – WEDC
social movements urban water and sanitation alternatives to privatisation politicised participation Uruguay Peru transnational movement networks



Titel: The role of social movements in developing public alternatives in urban water services Status