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

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posted on 15.12.2011, 10:10 authored by Philipp Terhorst
Grassroots social resistance to neoliberal reforms of urban water and sanitation has taken a dynamic trajectory in the past decade, especially in Latin America. The thesis' proposition is that these struggles have undergone qualitative changes. Their previously defensive strategies are developing into propositional strategies that increasingly focus on public and community alternatives to privatisation. This politicisation and movementisation of urban WATSAN is hardly discussed by academic literature, despite it being an emerging opportunity for propublic sector reform. Thus, the inquiry concerns the role of social movements in the exploration of alternatives to privatisation and looks at transnational networks and localnational struggles. This thesis employs critical ethnographic, participant research methodology. Empirical research took place from 2004 to 2008 and developed an emergent practice of politicised social movement research. As conceptual framework, the role of social movement in urban water and sanitation is considered as a process of radical reformism and social appropriation. On this basis, the global water justice movement's emergent discursive frame is analysed and found to centre on the democratisation of public water. By means of a comparative typology theory I then analyse local and national-level social struggles and develop the concept of pro-public challenge. Two case studies further elaborate on this type of political process of sector reform. These are the Uruguayan sector reform after a national referendum in 2004; and the case of Peru, where the embedded case of the city of Huancayo developed a public-public partnership as alternative to a planned water utility privatisation. The thesis develops a meso-level qualitative analysis of the political process of movementisation of sector reform in form of matrices, contingent pathways and contingent generalisations. The central finding is that social movements at transnational and local level develop new roles in pro-public sector reform. Despite substantive impacts, their power to implement alternative paths of development was found to be limited. They run the risk of not meeting all the resulting new challenges posed by politicised participation in sector reform, failing to develop adequate strategies, resources, organisational capacity and expert knowledge.



  • Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering


© Philipp Terhorst

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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