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From Resource Management to Political Activism: Civil Society Participation in Nicaragua's Rural Water Governance

  • Author(s): Romano, Sarah T.
  • Advisor(s): Eaton, Kent
  • et al.
Abstract

How to secure sustainable access to water is an increasingly acute problem that is global in scope. "From Resource Management to Political Activism: Civil Society Participation in Nicaragua's Rural Water Governance" demonstrates that this problem is also one that intersects in crucial ways with democratic political processes. Based upon thirteen months of field research in Nicaragua, this dissertation examines how community-based resource managers and water service providers transcend their rural localities and roles in order to engage in fundamentally new forms of political engagement, advocacy, and networking. After thirty years of constituting a legally-unrecognized resource management scheme in the country's rural areas, Potable Water and Sanitation Committees (CAPS) have formed dozens of new transcommunity, multi-sectoral "CAPS networks." These networks are serving as platforms for the participation of rural social actors in formal politics and their integration into policy processes. Notably, these dynamics are unfolding in an unlikely context: one of extreme political polarization and state attempts at cooptation via new mechanisms of direct democracy at the subnational level. This dissertation is motivated by the puzzle of how CAPS collectively assert themselves across political scales while maintaining autonomy and pluralism--even as the state seeks to incorporate expressions of civil society into partisan channels of citizen participation from above. I argue that this outcome of autonomy and pluralism is explained by three interrelated and mutually-dependent factors: 1) the CAPS' empowerment, capacities, and legitimacy as local resource managers; 2) their alliances with domestic and international NGOs and multilateral organizations; and 3) their strategic discourses of water use, access, and distribution. Principal research methods include semi-structured interviews; participant observation; and review and analysis of government and nongovernmental reports and documents, newspaper articles, and national legislation. Guided by an explicitly interdisciplinary orientation, this dissertation generates more robust theoretical arguments about two important trends in Latin America: democratization and decentralization.

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