The power to reform : water and the poverty of democracy and rights in the era of "good" governance : a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Massey University

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Since the early 1990s the achievement of ‘good governance’ has been the dominant discourse and the determined path to social and economic development. This discourse and its ensuing policy reform prescriptions promise that with the right alignment of actors and the right governance institutions, capitalist economic growth, human rights, and democracy will flourish. Indeed, in the discourse all three are regarded as complimentary and necessary for sustainable economic and social development. Such promises make the discourse very seductive and it has been embraced by international development agencies and many NGOs, citizens and private sector actors. But there is reason to suspect that below this veneer the dynamics of development may not be as progressive as they appear - especially for the deepening of democracy and the expansion of rights for the poor. Based on a year and half of ethnographic fieldwork on governance reforms in the urban water sector in the south Indian state of Karnataka, this thesis presents a critical challenge to the contemporary development paradigm of good governance. The study focuses on two specific propositions that underlie current policies of urban water governance. The first refers to a claim that good governance is both democratic and pro-market. This proposition appears to embody an inherently undemocratic assumption that in order for governance to be ‘good’ a democratic consensus would necessarily, and essentially, have to favour capitalism as a mode of economic organisation and the commercialisation and marketisation of basic services. The second proposition refers to a claim that commercially oriented water services, whether private or public, are good for poor and marginalised citizens and are compatible with the expansion and realisation of human rights. Through the use of detailed critical ethnography these propositions are examined as they intersect at three levels: policy, practice (process), and outcome. In examining the connections and intersections of these three levels of reform I argue that a number of contradictions and tensions exist within, and between what the discourse promises, the everyday practices of how they are implemented, and in the outcomes of such. As the title suggests, this thesis is about the power to reform in the contemporary development era of good governance. But it is also about the power to resist such reforms and the contestations and struggles over the meanings and material realms of development that take place at the site of governance reforms. The ambition of these contestations and struggles is the hope for manifesting more just and humane development in the present and within possible futures.
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Democracy, Karnataka, India, Good governance, Human rights, Poverty, Water services, Development studies