38.3 Neither commodity nor human right: Water as a political intervention from below

Wednesday, August 1, 2012: 9:30 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Veronica PERERA , Sociology, Purchase College, SUNY, Purchase, NY
When water became a political topic in the last two decades, one had to choose: either water was a commodity to be bought and sold in the market, or a human right to be universally provided by state-owned companies. Transnational corporations, global financial institutions, and neoliberal governments advocated the former while seeking to legitimize the privatization of water supply. Socio-environmental activists, NGOs, strands within UN agencies, and supportive intellectuals passionately defended the latter in their anti-privatization campaigns. As time went by, and as the human right to water was, belatedly, established by the UN in 2010, the dichotomy became murkier. Some have argued that “human right” was not the best concept or strategy to frame anti-privatization campaigns. While human right is a legal category for individuals, commodity refers to the property regime of the resource (Bakker 2007). If the human right to water is to overcome its anthropocentric and possibly capitalist nature, it needs to be revised under the lenses of the social production of wealth (Linton 2011). Others have explained that water is never fully privatized—accumulation by dispossession of water assembles private and public actors in neoliberal water governance (Swyngedow 2005). Still seeking to overcome the binary, the paper explores how “the human right to water” was mobilized in Colombia in the 2007-2011 referendum campaign for a Constitutional reform. Drawing on Latour (2005) and on multi-sited fieldwork, the paper explores how the struggle for the human right to water became a language for local political interventions, as it assembled a socioenvironmental counter-network of humans and non-humans. Tracing the energy, movement and connections that made the campaign happen, the paper discusses the political interventions that the universal “human right” made (Tsing 2005) and how the counter network challenged dominant representations of water, and proposed relational counternarratives of socio-nature.


Bakker, Karen...