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The scale of informality: Community-run water systems in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia

Andrea J. Marston
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA; ajmarston@berkeley.edu

ABSTRACT: The production of the urban waterscape is an ongoing process. In this paper, I examine the strategies used by members of 'water committees' in peri-urban Cochabamba, Bolivia in their attempts to ensure the long-term integration of their community-run water systems into municipal water plans. My analysis underscores two points. First, the water committees and their advocates have engaged a range of scalar strategies in an effort to transform their water systems from informal to quasi-formal (and therefore more temporally stable) structures. Second, I contend that the literature on politics of scale can potentially enrich theories of urban informality. Interpreting the political strategies of informal collectives through a scalar lens highlights the fact that 'inter-institutional' alliances are usually also – and importantly – multi-scalar. The literature on politics of scale, moreover, offers an important reminder about the role of history in urban waterscapes. Scales of governance are not politically neutral, and scalar interventions can engage historical legacies that are not necessarily compatible with contemporary aspirations.

KEYWORDS: Scale, informality, urban, water governance, Bolivia