Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Water and Politics: Clientelism and Reform in Urban Mexico

Veronica Herrera

University of Michigan Press



Water and Politics comes at a time when the problem of water delivery to millions of urban residents in the global South is “increasingly fraught with inequality, corruption and social conflict” (page 214). In particular, far too many young democracies still offer their citizens poorly functioning urban public services. Amidst common emphasis on lacking or weak coordination between government agencies, limited financial investments, and biophysical scarcity to account for the global water crisis, Veronica Herrera offers an alternative view. In this book, she draws upon empirical research in Mexico, which stems from her doctoral dissertation, to argue that the root of the global water crisis is in fact political. Specifically, Herrera finds that in a post-democracy context (like in Mexico), “the middle class and water-intensive industries” play a significant role in “creating supportive environments for reforms”. Furthermore, how politicians calculate the electoral viability of these reforms acts as the glue that binds them. Water and Politics responds to the questions: “Why is public service provision faring so poorly in Global South cities after democratization?” and “Why do some cities adopt successful reforms while others do not?” (pages 3 and 14).

Herrera studies the water and sanitation sector and related reforms following democratization in Mexico to answer these questions. Specifically, she examines the adoption of programmatic local public service provision in eight urban cases embedded within three state governments. By doing so, Herrera employs a two-tiered subnational comparative analysis within which she conducts cross-case comparison and within-case analysis. Her primary and secondary data were gathered between 2007 and 2012 and include 180 in-depth interviews.

This book comprises eight chapters. Following the introduction in Chapter 1, Chapter 2 proceeds to apply Herrera’s theoretical framework to the case in Mexico and discusses how the adoption of water reforms varies across the eight cases. Chapter 3 subsequently examines the history of urban water services in Mexico before democratization in the 1980s, and identifies subsequent macro-level shifts. It also analyses the role of state government in public service provision at the local level. Chapters 4 to 7 are empirical chapters and each presents two of the urban cases. Specifically, each chapter presents one of four pathways out of centralized, particularistic service provision (page 29). Chapters 4 and 5 suggest two distinct pathways toward reform adoption: “broad elite incorporation” and “narrow elite incorporation”, respectively. In contrast, Chapters 6 and 7 present two different pathways toward reform failure: one leading to gradual decay of services and the other acute decay, which are principally attributed to the absence of both a middle class majority as well as large industrialized economies (page 30). In Chapter 8, Herrera concludes by identifying the implications of her research findings for social welfare goals, and also considers how her framework may transfer across from water and sanitation to other sectors. She also proposes a future research agenda and returns to analyse the global water crisis through a political lens.

Water and Politics brings new empirical insight and understanding about the provision of public services through the experience of water and sanitation reforms in Mexico following democratization. Its analysis is relevant for academics, policymakers, government leaders, and development practitioners alike.


Book note prepared by Hannah Keren Lee

Search the Book notes database

Our Book notes database contains details and summaries of all the publications included in Book notes since 1993 - with details on how to obtain/download.

Use the search form above, or visit the Book notes landing page for more options and latest content.

For a searchable database for papers in Environment and Urbanization, go to http://eau.sagepub.com/