Autonomy in a post-neoliberal era: Community water governance in Cochabamba, Bolivia

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32 Scopus citations


Bolivia's leftward political shift, which is frequently described as "post-neoliberal," is crucially linked to the ideal of autonomy. While autonomy has a long history among leftist theorists and social movements in Latin America, its contemporary importance is related to an ongoing effort on the part of scholars and activists to identify an alternative organizational form that eschews both state actors and private entities. Drawing on fieldwork conducted with a group of community-run water systems in peri-urban Cochabamba, this paper asks what autonomous water governance looks like in practice. By presenting a case in which the community water systems made a series of structurally limited "autonomous" decisions that ultimately bound them more closely to the local state and private sector, the paper argues that autonomy faces socio-ecological limitations when conceptualized as a project of internal self-governance. Socio-ecological processes take place at multiple scales and over long time spans; a radical politics of autonomy therefore necessitates a spatially extroverted project that focuses on building strategic alliances that strengthen community autonomy in the long-term.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-256
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Aug 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Autonomy
  • Bolivia
  • Community
  • Environmental governance
  • Latin America
  • Neoliberal natures
  • Post-neoliberalism


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