Characterization of water privatization in Web of Science according evidence from
Characterization of water privatization in Web of Science according evidence from
text mining and cocitation analysis / Carlos Vílchez-Román
Even the title says ‘water privatization’, academic papers focused in this issue discuss the growing private
participation in supply of water and sanitation services. In most of countries, these services are provided by
public operators (e.g. a state enterprise or municipality), so after the privatization, this ‘natural monopoly’ in
water services provision is maintained.
It is an important issue because media mainly discuss it from a ‘privatization of public services will save us’
frame, which can explained by commercial and political pressures. For instance, critical journalists have noted
that media coverage on poor quality of water services utilities (e.g., insufficient water and sanitation coverage,
poor wastewater treatment and political interferences), often is coincidental with interest shown by global
companies (e.g., Suez, Bechtel, etc.) in the local water and sanitation services. However, none of these pressures
can be expected in papers published in peer-reviewed journals, which have a more academic than commercial
approach. With relation to the effects of privatization of water services, in academic literature we find critical
voices (Bakker, 2001, 2003; Hall and Lobina, 2006, 2007; Sjölander, 2005;), but also -and mainly- supporters of
positive aspects of water services privatization (Nickson and Franceys, 2003; World Bank, 1994, 2004).
The purpose of this work is to analyze how the ‘water services privatization’ has been approached in papers
published in peer-review journals. Even, there are many documents focused in water services privatization
published as grey literature, we didn’t consider them because we don’t have a central repository with materials
written in standards formats (especially the bibliographic references, the raw data for cocitation analysis),
therefore it is very difficult to include this kind of material in bibliometric studies that can be replicated.
2. Material and methods
We worked with papers and proceedings indexed in a well known citation scientific database: Web of Science
(WoS) of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). Even when this database has been highly criticized by its
preference for research done in English speaking countries and its limited scope of social issues in Latin
America countries, WoS and Scopus are two scientific databases with the highest standards of academic quality.
We did a search in WoS using specific keywords (water services, and privatization) in the topic field, then
refined the results using filtering features available from WoS interface and selected only articles and
proceedings. After that, we downloaded 57 records in plain text, including abstracts and references. This file was
exported to BibExcel, with this program we extracted the authors from reference section, produced a ranking of
most cited authors and then generated a cocitation matrix that was opened from NetDraw program, which was
used to produce the cocitation maps for authors cited at least three or four times.
Title and abstract of each paper was exported to different plain text files, so they can be content analyzed with
VBPro and VBMap programs. We used built-in menus to generate the matrix for the co-frequency analysis. The
co-frequency matrix was composed by three columns: words co-cited, and two numbers for x-y coordinates.
2.3. Collection and analyzing techniques
Content analysis: We used descriptive statistics (e.g., frequencies) to identify most used words in title and
abstract fields; but since this kind of analysis takes the words out of their context (e.g., the sentence) we did an
analysis of co-ocurrence of words by using a text mining tool known as multidimensional scaling (MDS).
Bibliometric analysis: To identify citation patterns in papers focused in 'water services privatization' we used
cocitation analysis since the technique allows the generation of visual representations of citation behavior which
are less easy to understand for academic readers.
3.1. Content analysis
We identified the most used words in title and abstract fields in each paper (see Figures 1 and 2), and also
generated two bidimensional maps of the co-ocurrence of words (see Figures 3 and 4).
Figure 1. Most frequent words in title of papers
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40
Figure 2. Most frequent words in abstract of papers
m anagem ent
0 50 100 150 200
Figure 3. Multidimensional scaling of co-ocurrence of words in title of papers
Privatization - British model
-0.6 -0.4 spain -0.2 0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8
Water Sanitation Services - LatinAmerica
Figure 4. Multidimensional scaling of co-ocurrence of words in abstract of papers
Water services and infraestructure - Research and
new tw o into
urban health municipalities
process industry environmental
-0.6 -0.4 servicepolicy
-0.2 restructuring0 governance 0.2 0.4 0.6
social control state poor
political utilities delivery
cost privatization public
government policies -0.2 costs
provision w ater resources
local development systems
Economic and social cost - Sanitation supply
3.2. Bibliometric analysis
A similar pattern was observed working with authors with a) three or more cocitations or b) four or more
cocitations (see Figures 5 and 6).
Figure 5. Cocitation network of authors with three or more cocitations
Figure 6. Cocitation network of authors with four or more cocitations
With relation to contents of paper titles, text mining shows an axis we call privatization, differentiating between
British and French models of privatization of water and sanitation services. Actually, the bidimensional map
display 'Africa' label near 'privatization' label, so given that many African countries were previously French
colonies, we can assume that the privatization experiences discussed in papers are related to the implementation
of French model, which preserves the ownership of water services infrastructure (e.g., treatment plants, pipes
networks, etc.) in the hands of the State, while transfers to a private operator the financing and managerial tasks,
what we call the day-by-day operations. Contrary to French model, British model means a full privatization of
water services: infrastructure and running of business.
It is interesting to note that even the privatization experiences implemented in many developing countries since
1980 decade resulting in hundreds and thousand of workers fired owed to engineering processes, this direct
cause of poverty -unemployment- is seldom mentioned as a negative effect of privatization. After reading the
paper abstracts, we did not either find a more critical approach to privatization process, since most of analysis
are focused in improvements in quality and access.
Most of studies on 'water services privatization' assume that private operators are more efficient than public
companies, in terms of cost-benefit and financial indicators; however the empirical evidence from econometric
studies is not conclusive (Estache and Rossi, 2002; Trujillo and Estache, 2005; Warner and Hefetz, 2002), which
means that this assumption is not based on evidence.
On the other side, even academic world and public opinion consider water services as an essential right, when
the frame of ‘citizen rights’ changes to ‘consumer rights’, water services is no longer viewed as an obligation
operators must provide, but a good subject to supply and demand laws, and the payment capacity of consumers.
(Spronk, 2007a, 2007b) This kind of approach is also absent in most of papers analyzed.
The central position of World Bank in cocitation maps is explained by the high volume of literature produced by
this international financing organization but also the political role played by this agent, because it is known that
some credits to developing countries was conditioned to an increasing privatization of public services, inside the
politics of structural adjustments.
• Replicate this method (content and bibliometric analysis) in two other citation databases: Scopus and
Scientific ELectronic Online Library (SciELO) from Bireme.
• Apply this approach to analyze other “politically incorrect” issues focused on negative effects of
globalization to get a more balanced view of this process.
• Promote among agricultural librarians the benefits of employing bibliometric tools such as cocitation
analysis and bibliometric indicators.
Bakker, K. (2001). Paying for water: Water pricing and equity in England and Wales. Transactions of the
Institute of British Geographers, 26(2),143-164.
— (2003). Archipelagos and networks: Urbanization and water privatization in the South. Geographical
Journal 169(4), 328-341.
Estache, A. and Rossi, M. (2002). How different is the efficiency of public and private water companies in Asia?
World Bank Economic Review, 16(1), 139-148.
Hall, D. and Lobina, E. (2006). Pipe dreams: The failure of the private sector to invest in water services in
developing countries. PSIRU: London.
— (2007). Profitability and the poor: Corporate strategies, innovation and sustainability. Geoforum, 38(5), 772-
Nickson, A. and Franceys, R. (2003). Tapping the market: The challenge of institutional reform in the urban
water sector. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Sjölander-Holland, A. C. (2005). The water business : Corporations versus people. London: Zed Books.
Spronk, S. (2007a). Roots of resistance to urban water privatization in Bolivia: The “new working class”, the
crisis of Neoliberalism, and public services. International Labor and Working-Class History, 71(1), 8-28.
Spronk, S. (2007b). The politics of water privatization in the Third World. Review of Radical Political
Economics, 39(1), 126-131.
Trujillo, L. and Estache, A. (2005). Infrastructure performance and reform in developing and transition
economies: evidence from a survey of productivity measures. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.
Warner, M. and Hefetz, A. (2002). The uneven distribution of market solutions for public goods. Journal of
Urban Affairs, 24(4), 445-459.
World Bank (1994). World Development Report 1994: Infrastructure for development. Oxford and New York:
Published for the World Bank [by] Oxford University Press.
— (2004). Making services work for the poor: World Development Report 2004. Washington, DC: World Bank.