‘God was a rotten plumber’: Common sense, moral economy and ‘financing water for all’

Wadsley, Johanna (2020). ‘God was a rotten plumber’: Common sense, moral economy and ‘financing water for all’. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 38(4) pp. 674–692.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654419888910


This paper presents a fresh approach to empirical moral economy through a case study of ‘financing water for all’ in global water governance. The period 2007–2011 can be understood as a process of purposive, collective re-making that occurred as the professional sphere’s various actors deployed, resisted and realigned distinct constellations of ‘moral common sense’ around the socio-politically fraught issue of paying for water. The research found that global water governance actors demonstrated significant agency to transform the moral economy by disabling and enabling particular forms of moral common sense with specific socio-political outcomes in mind. Namely, to normalize paying for water by shifting the degree of acceptability of contentious financial instruments, economic mechanisms and governance strategies: water pricing and tariffs, cost recovery, and private sector participation. The ascendance of new forms of moral common sense around the social object of paying for water enabled a shift away from impasse in the politics of ‘financing water for all’, particularly in regards to the association between free (or cheap) water, and moral and human rights to water. Indeed, the new constellation of moral common senses can be understood as having ‘made sense’ of paying for water as a means of realizing rights to water, for self and others. This in turn appeared to enable the re-legitimization of the private sector as a water governance actor.

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