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UBC Theses and Dissertations

How much for Old Chico? : water governance and the cobrança in the São Francisco River Basin de Freitas, Amanda Corin Parsons


This thesis analyzes the governance patterns and power configurations that both shape and are shaped by basin-level water governance as it has been applied in Brazil's São Francisco River Basin. Specifically, it focuses on bulk water charges (the cobrança) and the re-scaled, decentralized, and participatory governance space of the São Francisco River Basin Committee (CBHSF) and articulates this empirical analysis with debates around the neoliberalization of nature and the state-society relationship in Brazil. Using data obtained through informal interviews and participant observation over three months during 2011, this thesis suggests that traditional governance patterns -- especially patron-client relationships, the threat of force, and pharaonic development schemes -- continue to dominate water-related decision making in the basin. Although CBHSF has at times been a space of socioenvironmental resistance, the committee continues to be embroiled in an "existential" struggle between partisan and personalistic aims of "the government" and civil society's desire to foster a committee capable of working with(in) a responsive state. The cobrança, rather than privileging "economic rationalities," has been one of the political tools employed in this ongoing struggle. The cobrança is an example, furthermore, of how the saturation of governance with certain political logics has shaped -- and limited -- neoliberalization in the São Francisco River Basin. This context challenges institutionalization-centred analyses of neoliberalization; however, a socionatures frame provides a means for close engagement with neoliberalizing processes "on the ground" and for accessing the ways in which concomitant governance patterns can complement, contest, or even subsume neoliberalizing processes.

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