Susan Spronk

Susan Spronk studies development sociology and the political sociology of anti-privatization movements, with an emphasis on the social struggles against public service privatization in the Andes. She obtained her Ph.D. in Political Science from York University in Toronto, Canada, in 2007. Her dissertation, “The Politics of Third World Water Privatization: Neoliberal Reform and Popular Resistance in El Alto and Cochabamba, Bolivia,” examined the contentious politics of water privatization focusing on two case studies from Bolivia. The study was conducted with funding support from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the International Development Research Centre, and York University. Spronk’s research has been published inLatin American Perspectives and in Review of Radical Political Economics, and is forthcoming in International Labor and Working Class History. She was also selected by the Canadian International Development Agency in an international graduate student essay competition to present her research at the Canadian Association for the study of International Development in 2006.

Spronk’s postdoctoral research project, “Labour Unions and the Reform of Public Utilities in Latin America: Case Studies from Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru,” will investigate the role of public sector unions and social movements in promoting the democratic reform of public water and electricity utilities in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. The key questions to be addressed are: Why do certain unions and not others form labour-community alliances when confronted by privatization? What long term effects do these alliances have on the resulting institutional arrangements for public service delivery?

The study will draw on the results of Spronk’s doctoral research, which was conducted in Bolivia between July 2004 and August 2005. “The Politics of Third World Water Privatization” described how in 1999 consumers, peasants, and organized workers in Cochabamba formed multi-class coalitions that forced the government to cancel its water privatization policies in 2000, and why the coalition later split into two factions representing organized public employees and water consumers based upon social movement leaders’ perceptions that they no longer shared common interests in the struggle over public service reform. As a result of the split, the consumer coalition lacked the power to implement proposals to democratize decision-making within the public water utility and public service reform has been partial. The postdoctoral project will expand this research to include case studies from Peru, Ecuador, and follow up on the process in El Alto, which will allow for the comparison of the relative success and failure of other social movements’ strategies to defend public services and democratize the local decision-making processes that affect service delivery. More specifically, the public sector unions in Peru, which have built anti-privatization coalitions with women’s and indigenous groups, have also supported reform initiatives that aim to make the managers of public utilities more accountable to workers and consumers. By contrast, efforts to promote democratic reform in the public sector in Bolivia and Ecuador have met with mixed success, which suggests the need for comparative research.

School of International Development and Global Studies
University of Ottawa