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Organization and Environment

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


Bottled water has rapidly been transformed from an elite niche market into a ubiquitous consumer object. Yet the literature on drinking water privatization has largely neglected the growth of bottled water and its emergence as a global commodity. This article draws on Harvey’s analytic of accumulation by dispossession to explore how commodification unfolds differently across multiple forms of water. Based on ethnographic interviews with participants in two conflicts over spring water extraction in rural U.S. communities by the industry leader Nestlé, we make three arguments. First, contestation over bottled water commodification is refracted through competing framings regarding control over local water that illuminate the industry’s shifting accumulation strategies. Second, conflicts over specific instances of water extraction draw on rival narratives of the purity, uniqueness, and/or mundaneness of this commodity. Third, bottled water’s traits distinguish it materially and conceptually from tap water, necessitating a more nuanced analytical approach to its commodification.


This is the Accepted Manuscript (Author’s post-print) of an article published in the journal Organization and Environment. Available online:



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