Navigating Troubled Waters: An analysis of how urban water regimes in the global South reproduce inequality

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This research is an attempt to conceptualize the underlying forces behind persistent and ubiquitous problems of inequality in access to water in cities of the global south. Inequality in water access is hypothesized to result from urban water regimes that tend to prioritize the right to water access or to provide preferential terms of access for some groups in society, while marginalizing others.
By employing a critical realist approach, different theories in relation to inequality are applied in exploring the mechanisms and conditions leading to the unequal provision of water. In doing so, a structuralist perspective is built on the transition framework, integrated with critical urban theory and tested in two settings, Johannesburg, South Africa, and Hyderabad, India. In addition, a relational perspective, based on the concept of durable inequality, is used to scrutinize the relationship between state and citizen in contemporary South Africa and India.
Combining these perspectives tells us that the emergence of urban water regimes and inequality in access to water are associated with a set of different mechanisms, such as world city formations, and the World Bank’s strategic governance move, in promoting corporate models for municipalities and water utilities. They are also attributed to specific geo-historical conditions, within and through which different forms of inequality have been constructed around bounded categories (e.g. race, caste, class) especially through the politics of privilege and the politics of resistance in these cities. In Johannesburg, the dominance of the ANC and its use of increasingly technocratic modes of government have hindered many forms of political participation. In Hyderabad, there is less meaningful interaction between the state and the citizens as compared with Johannesburg, in so far as the mode of intermediation is often through party-based patronage.
By asking the question “what can be done?” the present research draws on collective agency and contentious politics, and strives to bring these concepts into the transition thinking, in order to contest the unsustainable characteristics of urban water regimes and ultimately inequality in access to water in urban areas.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)
  • Olsson, Lennart, Supervisor
Award date2014 Apr 25
ISBN (Print)978-91-979832-5-9
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2014-04-25
Time: 13:15
Place: Världen, 1st Floor, Geocentrum I, Sölvegatan 10, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Stirling, Andrew
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Sussex, UK

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


  • Water Access
  • Inequality
  • Transition Framework
  • Urban Water Regimes
  • World City
  • Contentious Politics
  • Hyderabad
  • India
  • Johannesburg
  • South Africa


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