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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Contested water : anti-water privatization movements in Canada and the United States Robinson, Joanna L.


My dissertation compares two social movements opposed to water privatization in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Stockton, California, United States. While these movements emerged in response to similar global forces and institutions, they developed differently and had divergent outcomes. While the movement in Vancouver successfully prevented the privatization of local water services, the movement in Stockton failed to prevent water services from being privatized, although as a result of a legal challenge the private contract was eventually overturned. Through a qualitative comparative analysis of data from 70 in-depth digitally recorded interviews with movement actors, I identify the specific underlying pathways that explain how cognitive, structural and relational mechanisms combine to shape mobilization, including how activists frame grievances, respond to opportunities, and utilize social networks to achieve their goals. My analysis also illuminates how each of these mechanisms is altered by the interplay between global and local processes, including international institutions and economic opportunity structures. I identify four factors that explain mobilization emergence, trajectories and outcomes in the Vancouver and Stockton cases: 1) context-dependent socially constructed meanings of water, 2) differences in the use of frames, 3) differences in the nature of and responses to political opportunities 4) differences in the strength and cohesion of environmental-labour coalitions. The findings contribute to the sociological understanding of social change in a global era. By revealing how global processes are constituted and reconstituted by local social movements – as well as how they interact with frames, opportunities and networks – my research adds a more nuanced and complete understanding of the specific ways globalization is shaping social movement mobilization on the ground. The creation of local solidarity – achieved through the presence of global connectors and the synthesizing of transnational and situated frames – demonstrates the potential for social movements to move beyond identity or class-based politics to a more broad-based and inclusive counter-hegemonic movement. The findings demonstrate that successful challenges and alternatives to neoliberal globalization will not necessarily come from movements operating at the transnational level, but rather from locally-situated movements that are connected globally but rooted in local communities.

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