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Archipelagos and networks: urbanization and water privatization in the South

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This paper examines the interrelationship between urbanization and water supply privatization in cities in the global South. The purpose of the paper is not to evaluate the impacts of privatization; rather, the paper analyses the differences in pathways and modes of water supply privatization, focusing on urban and contrasting with rural areas. A distinction is drawn between privatization (organizational change) and commercialization (institutional change) of water supply. Emphasis is placed upon the interrelationship between regulatory change (a shift from public to private management of water supply systems), human use of and access to water, and urban waterscapes. In contrast to metaphors of ‘networks’ so often applied in analyses of water management, the ‘archipelago’ is posited as a metaphor which better captures the complex overlapping strategies of water supply provision in urban areas in the South. Building on this metaphor, and in response to the ‘public–private’ dualism often invoked in studies of privatization, the paper outlines an alternative typology of water management in urban areas in the South. This typology foregrounds the concepts of the territorialization of corporate power as a means of understanding the articulation between privatization and urbanization processes in the South.

Keywords: South; political economy; privatization; urbanization; water supply

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, 1984 West Mall, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6T 1Z2, Email:

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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