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Fixing and Nixing: The Politics of Water Privatization


  • Rhodante Ahlers



Social uprisings in response to privatization dynamics in the water sector have triggered widespread debate on the social and ecological impact of neoliberal water policies. Much of this debate remains in the urban and domestic water sector, thereby disregarding the struggles of marginalized urban and rural producers who use water for multiple purposes. Furthermore, while private providers are blamed for prioritizing profit over people, it is increasingly clear that while water may be a valuable commodity, the sector as a whole inhibits long-term profitability. Instead, using the concept of “accumulation by dispossession,†the current process of privatization is understood as a new round of enclosures of the commons, implemented by a neoliberal state to open up new territories to capitalist development and to capitalist forms of market behavior. The contraction of global markets and the reconfiguration of the public sector as notions of nation and citizenship take on new meanings allow for the commodification and privatization of public goods and assets. Using the case of a Mexican irrigation district the paper shows how notions of scarcity are mobilized during neoliberal reform to reconfigure social relations of agricultural production so as to free up land, water, and labor for the market. This has not only resulted in large-scale dispossession of land and water, but also in stripping a group of their collective rights, and thereby dismantling a collective identity forged on past struggles over land and water. JEL Codes: Q15, Q25, Q28

Suggested Citation

  • Rhodante Ahlers, 2010. "Fixing and Nixing: The Politics of Water Privatization," Review of Radical Political Economics, Union for Radical Political Economics, vol. 42(2), pages 213-230, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:reorpe:v:42:y:2010:i:2:p:213-230

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    Cited by:

    1. Kate Bayliss & Ben Fine & Mary Robertson, 2013. "From Financialisation to Consumption: The Systems of Provision Approach Applied to Housing and Water," Working papers wpaper02, Financialisation, Economy, Society & Sustainable Development (FESSUD) Project.
    2. Emmanuel Kumi & Albert Arhin & Thomas Yeboah, 2014. "Can post-2015 sustainable development goals survive neoliberalism? A critical examination of the sustainable development–neoliberalism nexus in developing countries," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 539-554, June.
    3. Antonio A. R. Ioris, 2012. "The Positioned Construction of Water Values: Pluralism, Positionality and Praxis," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 21(2), pages 143-162, May.

    More about this item


    privatization; accumulation by dispossession; Mexico; irrigated agriculture;

    JEL classification:

    • Q15 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Agriculture - - - Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
    • Q25 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Water
    • Q28 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation - - - Government Policy


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