Sarah T. Hines

Visiting Assistant Professor, History

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

HistoryUniversity of California / Berkeley

Flows of Power: Urbanization, Modernization and Water Struggles in Twentieth-Century Bolivia

My dissertation is a study of water governance in the Cochabamba and La Paz regions of Bolivia in the twentieth century. Its driving question is how water regime change interacted with the historical development of capitalism in the cities and countryside of La Paz and Cochabamba, the centers of political power and economic development for most of the century. More specifically, the study is organized around four major issues, key concerns in environmental history: the place of water in the economy, the nature of water governance structures essential to operating the economic system, the role of different groups and individuals in hydraulic innovation, and the comparative relationships of environmental conditions to water use and control in the Cochabamba Valley and highland La Paz. The study examines how each of these dynamics changed from the late nineteenth century to the present, when capitalism became the dominant economic system in Bolivia and a modern water system was built. But this is not simply a story about capitalist penetration viewed through the “lens” of water. Instead, it is an account of how a diverse set of groups and individuals thought about and related to the waterscape and each other in a period of dramatic social, political, economic, and environmental change. The study explores their visions for water and hydropower, their efforts to realize those visions, and the policies, practices, and conflicts that resulted. Ultimately it will show that the Cochabamba and La Paz waterscapes were complex and shifting products of ongoing contests and compromises among rural, urban, national and transnational forces. By revealing the longer history of water systems and conflicts, the dissertation situates recent “water wars” in historical context and informs contemporary debates about how and by whom water should be governed.