Student Research: Water Crisis in Brazil

In her MCP thesis, "Fluid Dynamics: Politics and Social Struggle in São Paulo's Water Crisis (2014–2015)," Isadora Araujo Cruxen (MCP 2016) used social movement theory to make sense of -- and learn from -- the 2013 drought and ensuing water crisis in Brazil's largest city, São Paulo.

In late 2013, a severe drought hit the metropolitan region of São Paulo, Brazil’s most populous city and main economic center, and precipitated a water supply crisis. As water availability became increasingly strained during 2014, myriad collective action efforts by civil society actors sprung up in the city. My thesis explores this social mobilization around São Paulo’s supply crisis as a window into water politics and governance when water supply problems and solutions are unclear but have important political and service repercussions for different stakeholders. Two interrelated questions guided the research: How and why did particular forms of social mobilization around the water supply crisis emerge and develop? How did civil society actors transform their problem definitions into action strategies? I answer these questions by tracing the mobilization process of two broad-based civil society coalitions that emerged in the context of the crisis: the Alliance for Water (Aliança pela Água) and the Collective for Water Struggle (Coletivo de Luta pela Água). This analysis helps uncover underlying value disputes shaping how different actors framed problems and opportunities during the crisis. At the same time, it sheds light on the ways in which maintaining flexible problem frames and fluid relationships with one another allowed the two coalitions to reach beyond ideological stances and traditional strategies. Through fluid mobilization dynamics, they were able to either carve or take advantage of spaces for participation while still advancing particular organizational goals. While it is not clear what the long-term outcomes of mobilization will be, I argue that the efforts of both coalitions served to amplify different civil society voices, facilitate knowledge sharing about water issues, and open up channels for greater participation in water governance.

Professor Gabriella Carolini ( served as Isadora's advisor on this thesis.  To download the thesis, use the link at the left; to learn more about other DUSP student research, see

[image: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil -, CC BY 3.0 br,]