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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

6 - Law's work: legality and identity in transnational spaces



The previous chapters located their narratives of struggles over access to water in national domestic settings. They focused on particular disputes in specific urban localities that brought together a wide range of organisations, actors and rules from different levels of governance. This made it possible to locate understandings of rights and regulation in these narratives as embedded in local political and institutional forces, as well as in the material specificity of particular urban settings. Thus, for example, although rights were important in both Bolivia and South Africa, the importance of social movement activists from rural areas in the Bolivian case study meant that conceptions of water as territory figured much more prominently than the South African township activism, which configured access to water as a basic service right.

In this final chapter, I work across the case studies, in a space that is at least partly deterritorialised and transnational. The space was constructed by exploring the perspectives of three interpretive communities across case studies: NGOs and activists, water companies and operators, and regulators (understood broadly to encompass civil servants, independent agencies and international financial institutions). Each of these three interpretive communities was embedded in networks and practices that, up to a point, either transcend or operate with little reference to national political processes and institutions. I then explored these groups' understandings of the meaning and utility of law, working with a communicative and systemic conception of law as encompassing institutions, rules and processes that defined conduct as legal or illegal.