Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis
Karen Bakker
158 x 240 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

Water supply privatization was emblematic of the neoliberal turn in development policy in the 1990s. Proponents argued that the private sector could provide better services at lower costs than governments; opponents questioned the risks involved in delegating control over a life-sustaining resource to for-profit companies. Private-sector activity was most concentrated—and contested—in large cities in developing countries, where the widespread lack of access to networked water supplies was characterized as a global crisis.

In Privatizing Water, Karen Bakker focuses on three questions: Why did privatization emerge as a preferred alternative for managing urban water supply? Can privatization fulfill its proponents' expectations, particularly with respect to water supply to the urban poor? And, given the apparent shortcomings of both privatization and conventional approaches to government provision, what are the alternatives?

In answering these questions, Bakker engages with broader debates over the role of the private sector in development, the role of urban communities in the provision of "public" services, and the governance of public goods. She introduces the concept of "governance failure" as a means of exploring the limitations facing both private companies and governments. Critically examining a range of issues—including the transnational struggle over the human right to water, the "commons" as a water-supply-management strategy, and the environmental dimensions of water privatization—Privatizing Water is a balanced exploration of a critical issue that affects billions of people around the world.

KAREN BAKKER is Associate Professor and Director, Program on Water Governance, University of British Columbia, Canada. 

List of Figures and Tables
Abbreviations and Acronyms
Defining ‘Privatization’: A Note on Terminology
Introduction: Privatization and the Urban Water Crisis

Part I. Development, Urbanization, and the Governance of Thirst

  1. Governance Failure: Reframing the Urban Water Supply Crisis
  2. Material Emblems of Citizenship: Creating Public Water
  3. Watering the Thirsty Poor: The Water Privatization Debate
  4. Citizens without a City: The Techno-Politics of Urban Water Governance

Part II. Beyond Privatization: Debating Alternatives

  1. Protesting Privatization: Transnational Struggles over the Human Right to Water
  2. Commons versus Commodities: The Ambiguous Merits
  3. Politics and Biopolitics: Debating Ecological Governance

Conclusion: Beyond Privatization

1. Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis’
2. Social Action Vol.63 April - June 2013
"Is water, arguably the most basic of human needs, the final frontier for capitalism? Is market governance of water nothing more than green imperialism? Karen Bakker's Privatizing Water bravely and provocatively takes on the state and private models for governing urban water and proposes a radical and deeply illuminating rethinking of keywords such as public, community, and the market. Water, she argues, is not well served by the 'modern social imaginary,' and she proposes alternatives grounded in deliberative democracy and in a profound understanding of water as a biophysical, cultural, aesthetic and public good. A tour de force."

Michael Watts, Class of 1963 Professor of Geography and Development Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

"Written by one of the world's leading specialists in water governance issues, Privatizing Water deepens, challenges, and combines the debates on urban water supply, sustainable development and equitable access to water and public services. Dynamically combining interdisciplinary theory and empirical evidence, the book gives powerful insight into the water privatization debate. It is rich in challenging conceptualizations that range from elite-based hydrosocial networks to the social production of thirst. By focusing on actual practices at diverse scales of water control, the author is able to show the real-life worlds of the many who are 'unconnected' to the formal networks and rather make their own hybrid water projects."

Rutgerd Boelens, Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

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