Maria A. P. Woolson

From Management to Governance: Rethinking Water Policy and Privatization on Easter Island

Privatization of water has been advanced by national governments and international lending agencies as the most effective approach to managing water quality, quantity and access.  However, this approach to management often reduces the multifaceted nature of water to a set of simple economic relationships and treats many of its socio-cultural dimensions as externalities; in practice, these externalities, what we can think of as the multidimensionality of water, ultimately complicate if not undermine many of the very same approaches to managing the resource and result in ecological, social and cultural degradation. 

This chapter examines the contradictions between institutional practices organized around water privatization as a universal set of technical problems to be solved, and the ecological and cultural processes that constitute water systems, which can only be comprehensively addressed through water governance. The Chilean case of Easter Island highlights the problems of managing water strictly as an economic good that treats the resource independently from its socio-cultural context and related ecological and social challenges. The discussion draws attention to the implications of assuming a universal notion of modern citizenship, which is unwarranted in certain contexts in developing countries.  

Author’s Note
This research was supported by a Tinker Foundation Research Grant in Latin American Studies and the University of Arizona.
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