The politics of water rights and water delivery in rural Chile
: An Institutional Ethnography

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis explores the organisation of rural water delivery in Chile. Specifically, it examines the Chilean government’s Ministry of Public Works programme, Agua Potable Rural (APR is the acronym in Spanish for Agua Potable Rural, which translates as Rural Drinking Water), through the experiences of rural people’s negotiated access to drinking water, their becoming members of an APR organisation, and, ultimately how their access to drinking water is institutionally mediated. As such, this dissertation is an inquiry into the organisation of community water management in rural Chile and its relation to the wider neoliberal context of water management in the country.

I use Institutional Ethnography (IE) to analyse empirically the work processes and textual practices that connect people´s activities in multiple settings to create what is known as the APR programme wherein “community water management” takes place. A specific water delivery project in an APR committee in North Central Chile served as the starting point for this inquiry.

I show how water management texts frame essential aspects of institutional actions where people apply for water access. I explain how the categories of “vulnerability” and “water rights” are fundamental in ruling differential access to drinking water. The thesis argues that the APR programme is reproducing the business of drinking water. This is done via a “technical” process where “objective” decisions are made and where the systematic use of water for profit making appears naturalised or simply how things work. I show how this process is coordinated in a textually mediated sequence of actions explicitly organised for the benefit of transnational sanitary companies and Chile’s powerful elite, at the expense of rural inhabitants. I suggest that avenues for securing the human right to water and sanitation to all will not only stem from amendments to the Water Code. Substantial changes to the Constitution are required, together with questioning the very existence and assumptions of the APR programme.
Date of Award23 Jun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorEgle Cesnulyte (Supervisor) & Mark Jackson (Supervisor)


  • community water management
  • water management
  • Institutional Ethnography
  • Ethnography
  • Water
  • community development
  • feminist methodology
  • feminist theory
  • Chile
  • sustainability
  • water rights
  • human right to water

Cite this