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The Corporation, continued: How a private water corporation clings on in an era of discontent

Topics: Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Urban Geography
Keywords: Corporation, neoliberalization, privatization, protest, water
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In an era marked by inequality and socio-natural crises, a rise of anti-system protest is creating deep uncertainties for the future of urban life. How are private corporations interpreting, and responding to, the new demands of urban citizens? I approach this question through an institutional ethnographic study from within the largest private water corporation in Chile, the global epicenter of privatized water management. I trace the multiple ways that directors, engineers, and lawyers in the for-profit water sector are protecting the company’s prospects at a time when a multi-year water supply crisis, and an increasingly conflictive political climate, threaten its continued license to operate.

I advance two central claims relevant to the study of corporations in urban politics. First, I expose the ways that the corporation makes use of purportedly technical knowledge that it creates on water crises, to promote a depoliticizing discourse in policy debates. This strategy proves somewhat successful in neutralizing political claims against the company, which stands accused of profiteering and political influencing during the supply crisis. Secondly, I demonstrate how, in an increasingly conflictive political climate, the corporation deploys several measures to prevent popular reforms to the laws that govern them. Those measures include image cleansing through public relations efforts, and threats of capital flight through direct communication channels with government ministers. These findings will be of interest to scholars of corporations in urban politics, especially in contexts of popular uprising and demands for democratization of the management of basic resources.

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