Session 2

Thursday, September 20, 2012
4:00-5:30 pm
Fainsod Room (Littauer, 3rd floor)

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David McDonald, Professor of Global Development Studies at Queen's University, Canada, and Co-Director of the Municipal Services Project.

Title: Alternatives to Privatization: Public Options for Essential Services in the Global South

 About the talk:   Those who oppose privatization are often confronted with the objection that they present no alternative.  And yet there are many cases of successful public services in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This talk looks at theoretical concepts of what does (and does not) constitute an 'alternative to privatization', and what might make them ‘successful’, backed up by a comprehensive set of empirical data on public services initiatives in over 40 countries.

 Suggested readings: 

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His research interests relate primarily to the delivery of basic services in the global South (such as water, electricity and health care), but encompass a broad spectrum of related questions around urbanization, environmental justice and uneven development.  Much of this research has been conducted via the Municipal Services Project ( which he founded and has been co-director of since 2000.  The focus of the project was initially on the impact of privatization, cost recovery and other neoliberal policy reforms on the delivery of basic service in Southern Africa, but has since broadened its geographical and thematic scope.   Their primary focus now is on ‘alternatives to privatization’ in the delivery of basic services, with research partners throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.  

Theoretically, he is interested in competing conceptions of ‘public’ and how they have changed and been transformed under neoliberalism.  As a (marxian) political economist his focus in on the financial, institutional and ideological elements that tie everyday service delivery to the larger currents of (re)production, but he is also interested in a wide range of geographical and socio-cultural concepts of space and place that make up the broader connectivities of public engagement, from gender relations to different notions of ‘value’.  The extent to which one can talk of ‘universal norms’ with regards to services is central to this inquiry, as communities in the global South struggle for improved ‘public’ services (and fight privatization) but remain heterogeneous in their demands and contexts.