Moving beyond the commons/commodity dichotomy: The socio-political complexity of Peru’s water crisis

Karsten Paerregaard
Gothenburg University, Gothenburg, Sweden; karsten.paerregaard@globalstudies.gu.se

Astrid Oberborbeck Andersen
Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark; aoa@learning.aau.dk

ABSTRACT: How is water best managed – as a common good or a commercial product? This is the key question of this paper that serves as introduction to a special section on Peru’s water crisis. The theoretical point of departure is Karen Bakker’s (2007) discussion of water as "a commons versus a commodity" and the conceptual pitfalls and political dilemmas the dichotomy poses. The paper argues that in order to understand the social and political tensions not only in Peru but also in other countries suffering chronic and potential water shortage we must move beyond the idea that water is best managed as either a commons or a commodity. Rather, the paper suggests, we need to examine water governance as a multi-faceted and complex activity in which water exceeds the dichotomy and sometimes takes the form of commons and commodity at the same time. Unpacking the conceptual baggage of the commons/commodity dichotomy, as well as that of each term separately, the paper problematises their use in the study of Peru’s water governance. To illustrate the intricate and often unexpected ways in which water is claimed, accessed and allocated in Peru, it introduces the five studies that comprise the special section, concluding that only by providing in-depth, ethnographic descriptions of the country’s water governance can we gain insight into its socio-political complexity and propose alternatives to its water crisis.

KEYWORDS: Water crisis, water governance, commodity, commons, Peru