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Attempts by local governments to privatize water services have met with furious opposition. Activists argue that to give private companies control of the water supply is to turn water from a common resource into a marketized commodity. Moreover, to cede local power to a global corporation puts communities at the center of controversies over economic globalization. In Contested Water, Joanna Robinson examines local social movement organizing against water privatization, looking closely at battles for control of local water services in Stockton, California, and Vancouver, British Columbia. The movements in these two communities had different trajectories, used different tactics, and experienced different outcomes. Robinson analyzes the factors that shaped these two struggles.
Drawing on extensive interviews with movement actors, political leaders, and policymakers and detailed analysis of textual material, Robinson shows that the successful campaign in Vancouver drew on tactics, opportunities, and narratives from the broader antiglobalization movement, with activists emphasizing the threats to local democracy and accountability; the less successful movement in Stockton centered on a ballot initiative that was made meaningless by a pre-emptive city council vote. Robinson finds that global forces are reshaping local movements, particularly those that oppose neoliberal reforms at the municipal level. She argues that anti–water privatization movements that link local and international concerns and build wide-ranging coalitions at local and global levels offer an effective way to counter economic globalization. Successful challenges to globalization will not necessarily come from transnational movements but rather from movements that are connected globally but rooted in local communities.
About the Author
Joanna L. Robinson is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Glendon College, York University, Toronto.
“All organizing is local, it is often said. But in our neo-liberal world, local activists often confront multinational antagonists with global reach. At first glance, such struggles may seem hopelessly unequal. Contested Water shows us to look again at the possibilities for local democracy in a global world.”
—Frances Fox Piven, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center
“Joanna Robinson reminds us that the water wars have escalated in rich countries as well as poor. The activist campaigns against privatization of water in Canada and the United States are important battles in a much larger struggle about the future of public goods. Contested Water provides riveting narrative, insightful analysis, and lessons for future activists. It’s essential reading for making sense of the battles over neoliberal reforms that will define the next decade.”
—David S. Meyer, Department of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
“Contested Water provides an orientation toward water resources that is badly needed in social science literature. It departs from the general pattern of overly technical water books. Instead of embracing a one-size-fits-all integrated water management framework, it recognizes that context matters and provides sophisticated analyses of important contextual considerations.”
—Helen Ingram, Research Fellow, Southwest Center, the University of Arizona; coeditor of Water, Place, and Equity