Published In

The Cambridge Handbook of Environmental Sociology (Vol. 2)

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Water-supply -- Social aspects, Water utilities -- Privatization, Water resources development, Municipal water supply, Commodification


This chapter examines the global political economy of access to drinking water, with particular attention to the implications for environmental and social justice. After reviewing theoretical approaches to the privatization and commodification of drinking water, the chapter examines the institutional and ideological drivers, dynamics, and effects of the enclosure of municipal (tap) water supplies, and the substantial countermovements it has generated, drawing on case studies from both the global South and the North. The chapter briefly reviews the present status of municipal water privatization, and then turns to another major modality of water commodification: bottled water. It explores the dramatic growth of this relatively new commodity, its environmental and social externalities, and the grassroots movements opposing water extraction by the global bottled water industry in specific localities. These countermovements have proven partially successful at reversing, slowing, or preventing privatization, and in posing obstacles to the further commodification of water through bottling. The concluding section discusses the linkages between these various modes of water commodification, and the implications for ensuring the human right to water.


Cambridge University Press, © 2020



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