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Paper de rebecca abers em congresso do abcp

  1. 1. 6º Encontro da ABCP 29/07 a 01/08/2007, Unicamp, Campinas, SP Área Temática: Estado e Políticas Públicas Práticas Deliberativas:A construção de poder decisório nos comitês de bacia hidrográfica Rebecca Abers Instituto de Ciência Política, Universidade de Brasília Margaret Keck Political Science Department Johns Hopkins University
  2. 2. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 1 The Political Construction of Decision-Making Power in River Basin Committees1 Over the last twenty years, we have seen a worldwide trend towards inclusionof participatory deliberative bodies in the process of public decision-making. Suchforums are created for a variety of purposes, including democratization of access todecision-making, enhanced public sector accountability, pooling information andresources, reducing transaction costs, and solving problems. Responding toConstitutional mandates, demands from social movements, and the internationaldiffusion of the idea that governance mechanisms can supplement (or replace) statecapacity, tens of thousands of deliberative councils have been set up throughoutBrazil. A main focus of institutional reform in the water management sector, the focusof this paper, has been the creation of new deliberative bodies at the River Basinlevel, called River Basin Committees. These bodies bring together actors from local,state and (when applicable) federal government, civil society, and large water usersranging from sanitation companies, to industries, to farmers. Many proponents hopedthat these new arenas would transform decision-making in the water sector,guaranteeing that multiple interests and viewpoints be considered in managementdecisions and building commitment among the vast diversity of private and publicactors who have a stake in how water is managed. Simply put, our research makes it very clear that the existence of aparticipatory deliberative body does not ensure that it can actually deliberate, makedecisions, and have those decisions recognized and implemented. Its formalcreation does not give it political authority in practice. For that to occur, it mustbecome a political space within which conflicts can be expressed and examined, and1 The authors benefited from financial support from the following at some point during the research forthis article: Grants to the Watermark Project / Projeto Marca d’Água from the John D. and Catherine T.MacArthur Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and the Fundo Setorial de RecursosHídricos / Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology; Grants to the authors from the NationalScience Foundation (International Post-Doctoral Fellowship GRANT # 0107314) to Abers; and fromthe MacArthur Program on Global Security and Sustainability, Research and Writing Competition toAbers and Keck. .
  3. 3. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 2where deliberations influence public decisions and state action.2 Among the 14 riverbasin committees whose evolution we have followed closely for the last eight years,some have not gotten off the ground, and others have developed considerablecapacity to mobilize resources and implement actions. Some have gained publicvisibility and influence. Some have had spurts of positive action, only to fall back intorelative stasis. Only a very few have ever managed to exercise the statutory powersthey supposedly possess. How can we account for these differences? How do novelinstitutional actors construct political authority? In the case of water policy, the answer to this question is particularly tricky,because “management” occurs through the complex interactions of a remarkablenumber of public and private activities conducted by thirsty individuals, sanitationcompanies, dam operators, farmers, industries, tourist enterprises, tree planters andtree cutters, municipal planners, residents of squatter settlements, golf courseplanners, environmental agencies at all levels, energy companies and agencies, andon and on. However much everyone might agree on the goal of ample quantities ofclean water for all users and uses, in fact there are highly divergent sets of rules andnorms of behavior governing the different kinds of interests involved. Despiteconsiderable institutional reorganization in the interest of rationalizing and makingmore integrated the management of water in Brazil, there are still myriad systems ofinstitutions, organizations, and rules, with no clear hierarchy among them. Followingthe work of Raustiala and Victor (2004), we conceive of this arrangement as a"regime complex", or an institutional system characterized by a "horizontal,overlapping structure and the presence of divergent rules and norms" (305). Creatinga new decision-making body within a regime complex raises particular challengesbecause authority not only can be vetoed by but also must be recognized by amultiplicity of actors who likely understand the role of that body in different ways. In our eight year study of river basin committees, we initially expected thatdifferences in socioeconomic and political variables on the one hand and in thecharacteristic types of water problems of the region on the other would predict thesuccess or failure of participatory water management bodies. Thus, more developedregions with greater institutional capacity should produce more successful2 Much of the literature on collaborative governance institutions focuses exclusively on their capacity toproduce cooperation, and avoids the problem of political authority and power. For a recent critique, seeMoe 2005.
  4. 4. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 3committees; water problems whose solutions provided tangible, selective benefitswere more conducive to successful shared governance than those with high likelyincidence of free riding (diffuse pollution, for example). While not irrelevant, theseexplanations did not prove robust. Socioeconomic development and institutionalcapacity did not tell us why governments in some states showed no interest inmanaging water at all, nor could it explain why committee mobilization andeffectiveness seemed to vary so dramatically within states. Our next set of explanations focused on the internal processes of committees.We hypothesized that in some committees, dedicated leaders or core groups madecreative use of resources available to committee members themselves, built socialcapital through concrete practices and problem solving, and could then invest thatsocial capital in larger undertakings. This proved to be quite a robust finding, but stillan insufficient one. It could not show how a movement from essentially voluntaryactivity to political authority – and the power to have decisions implemented even inthe face of opposition – could possibly take place. For the committees to occupy the public role they were set up to play,cooperation among members did not suffice: there had to be active and reciprocalengagement with other parts of the water management system, most especially withthe state. The members of these bodies had not only to expand their social capitalby collaborating among themselves but also to develop political capital that couldgarner them influence over political decision-making. This, according to Sorensonand Torfing (2003:610), who are among an emerging group of authors to use thisterm, requires gaining 1) “access” to the decision-making processes, 2) “thecapability to make a difference in these processes”, and 3) “the perception ofthemselves as political actors” (see also Birner and Wittmer 2003). In this paper, we explore how local actors built (or failed to build) both socialand political capital in three river basins that we have been studying since 2001,where the political outcomes of participatory water management differ greatly. Innone of them did the organizing process begin with strong governmental support orsignificant resources. In the Paranoá Lake basin, which lies in the central part ofBrazil’s Federal District (Brasília), a group of actors started a movement in 2000 thatsuccessfully brought about new water legislation and a commission to create a riverbasin committee. However, lacking both government support and sustained civicmobilizing, the process stalled and the committee has yet to start functioning. In the
  5. 5. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 4Itajaí river basin, in Santa Catarina State, the state government’s neglect of floodcontrol precipitated the mobilization of a group of non-state actors. This groupbecame the catalyst for formation of a basin committee, gradually building theorganizational strength and autonomous fundraising capacity to carry out projects inall of the basin’s 47 municipalities. Nonetheless, the committee still cannot attractinvestment and support from the state government, preventing the kind of large scaleplanning and management of water that committees were initially expected to do.The Velhas river basin committee, in Minas Gerais State, underwent the mostsurprising transformation. Hastily created only “on paper” to fulfill the stategovernment’s commitment to an international lender, it was transformed after beingtaken over by an environmentalist civic organization that had built a network of stateand non-state actors throughout the basin.. The state government adopted thecommittee’s project of cleaning up the Velhas River and has made major investmentsto that end. 3 We proceed as follows. First, we situate our approach theoretically in relationto scholarship on participatory governance, power and political authority, and regimecomplexes. We then describe the reorganization of Brazil’s water resourcesmanagement system and the configuration of its components as a “regime complex,”and place river basin committees within that context. Third, we discuss the evolutionof above three committees, referring occasionally to others. Finally, we attempt tospecify some of the variables whose interaction appear to us crucially important, ifnot causally determinant, for explaining the construction of political authority by newpublic entities.Political Authority and Regime Complexes Most scholarship on participatory deliberative bodies locates them in a kind ofpublic space in construction, expecting inclusive or collaborative aspects to make a3 The research was conducted through interviews and document collection over an eight year period,largely in the context of the Watermark Project. The Watermark Project is a network of researchers atBrazilian and US Universities that has been accompanying the evolution of river basin institutionssince the beginning of the decade – see In 2001, the Watermark Projectconducted interview and document collection and analysis in 23 river basins, under the coordination ofAbers. In 2004, a sample survey was conducted among members of 14 river basin committees and 4river basin consortia. The project supported as well the elaboration of 19 master´s and doctoraldissertations on river basin politics. In depth, semi-strucutred interviews were conducted by Abers,Keck, and research assistant, Ana Karine Pereira in the Velhas, Itajai, Litoral Norte, and Paranoácommittees in 2001, 2003, and 2007.
  6. 6. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 5political system more democratic, accountable, and publicly minded. The[democratic] political system, in this view, is heterogeneous, with room formajoritarian decisional and executive structures, occasions for direct democracy, anddeliberative spaces in which participants attempt to achieve consensus or negotiateagreements among a wider range of interests and views than would be accuratelyreflected in legislatures or state agencies – albeit regarding a limited range of issues.For many authors, the possibility of greater inclusion, or more effective harmonizationof stakeholder interests, renders instances of direct and/or deliberative democracymore interesting and in some respects “more democratic” than the more traditionalrepresentative and electoral arenas. An expanding literature on new deliberative arrangements in Brazil andelsewhere4 has made it clear, however, that their formal creation does not leadimmediately to a transformation of government decision-making processes. Wheredeliberation fails to affect outcomes, it tends to lose legitimacy (Lubell et al. 2005:280-85), and many erstwhile proponents of stakeholder councils today worry thatthey mainly function to legitimate the status-quo. Where this occurs, it seems likelythat societal actors will lose interest. If a potential participant does not think that thestructured public deliberations of participatory governance bodies will produceresults, she will most likely take her energies elsewhere – to an NGO, for example --unless participating has other benefits, such as affording her an unusually goodplatform for voice or for networking. Volunteerism in the service of the public goodmust either develop resonance with public authority, or find other, usually private,resources with which to carry out projects and programs.5 This means that somehow, what goes on in deliberative arenas must affectthe configuration and exercise of power. We understand power in the three-dimensional sense proposed by Steven Lukes (2005[1974]). With the Pluralists, helocates power’s first dimension in the ability of those who have it to control theoutcomes of decisions to their benefit; it can be measured by effects. However,Lukes argued that this view fails to recognize two other important dimensions of4 See, for example, Abers (2000); Avritzer (2002, 2003); Dagnino (2002); Santos (2002); Santos Jr.,Queiroz & Azevedo, (2004); and Tatagiba (2002)5 One of the rather extraordinary threads running throughout our study of river basin committees is theremarkable and sustained level of activism by people who, committed to sustainable watermanagement, continue to try to harness their energies to a public project – despite the continued lackof commitment from state authorities.
  7. 7. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 6power. A second form is present in the ways that the position of actors in socialstructures allows them to control what issues come onto the agenda. This powerladen process of agenda formation predates the kinds of political competitions thatresult in winners and losers. This version of power was proposed by elite theoristssuch as C.Wright Mills (1956) and Bachrach and Baratz (1970). Finally, Lukes notes,the ability to shape which issues are to be understood as political issues at all is alsoa form of power. Such a version of power incorporates a Gramscian understanding ofthe role of ideology. Thus power involves outcomes, positions, and cognitive framing.For a new decision-making institution to actually have political authority, it must beable to influence outcomes, to define agendas, and to become a source or arena fordefining which issues are politically relevant. New political arenas may lack power for two reasons. On the one hand, theymay lack internal resources: their members may not have what Sorenson and Torfing(2003) call political capital – or the political rights, resources and competencies thatallow them to gain influence over political decisions. On the other hand, such arenasare inserted in political spaces that may fail to recognize them or that may even vetotheir attempt to influence the actions other actors – making decisions, for example,about the projects and programs state agencies that should be allowed to implementor the rules about private behavior that state agencies should enforce. This problemis typically discussed in the literature on participation as related to the political will6 orpolitical interests7 of the state agency that are supposed to devolve power toparticipatory arenas. Our research on water politics suggest that the problem can bemuch more complicated than one of devolution from one power holding body toanother, because in many policy arenas, power is not concentrated in the hands of asingle public agency (Abers, 2007; Abers and Keck, 2008,forthcoming). Although participatory governance bodies are frequently studied on their own,they are almost always part of much larger sets of inter-institutional relations. Waterresource management takes place (or fails to) within a remarkably complex issuearea, in which institutional interactions occur at multiple levels of the political system,both horizontally and vertically, and moreover include among their principal actorspowerful private interests. Coordination problems abound: the definition of the6 Avritzer (2003), for example, suggests that a key factor in the success of Participatory Budgetpolicies is the existence of a participatory political project in the local government.7 Abers (2000, 2003), for example, suggests that participatory policies are only likely to beimplemented if doing so is understood by state actors as in their own political interest.
  8. 8. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 7system itself is contested both actively and passively; different components of thesystem operate according to different definitions, play by different rules, and havedifferent interests and goals; and the practical coordination of decisions involved inresolving any given dispute normally require the interaction of multiple components. This kind of complexity is constitutive of what Raustiala and Victor call aregime complex: “an array of partially overlapping and nonhierarchical institutionsgoverning a particular issue area”(2004: 279). This conception seems to describewell those political projects that seek to integrate previously distinct institutions,actors, and policy arenas. Such configurations combine distinct fora, in each ofwhich different sets of actors act according to expectations drawn from different legalstipulations and institutional arrangements. Although clearly interconnected,agreements reached in one forum do not necessarily extend to another, nor is therea well-defined hierarchy according to which one set of decisions trumps another(Ibid.). 8 Raustiala and Victor propose that the evolutionary dynamics of regimecomplexes differ in a variety of ways from those of institutional arrangements withmore established definitions and boundaries. “In a regime complex…negotiations over most substantive rules commence with an elaborate and dispersed institutional framework already in place. The institutional slate is not clean. Ideas, interests, and expectations frequently are already aligned around some set of existing rules and concepts, though these rules and concepts can and do contradict one another - especially when underlying interests are contested and in flux. Consequently, power, interests, and ideas do not directly map onto the norms that become enshrined in the agreements at the core of the regime; the content and evolution of rules does not trace neatly back to changes in the underlying driving forces (Ibid., 296).” Several characteristics of regime complexes raise challenges for the proposalthat one component within them should be transformed into a central source ofdecision-making. First, Raustiala and Victor note that ambiguity about the roles andrules of different institutions favors powerful actors in a position to shop around forthe most favorable venue through which to advance their interests (Ibid., 299-300)Second, change is more likely to result from the working out of problems arising8 Although Raustiala and Victor develop the concept of “regime complexes” in a study of internationalinteractions around plant genetic resources, their formulation draws upon the work of scholars ofdomestic public policy, in particular Helen Ingram’s work on water politics in the United States;however well these insights may have traveled into the international arena, we find that they continueto illuminate highly interdependent domestic policy arenas as well.
  9. 9. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 8between components of the system than from reform decisions at the level of anysingle component or the system’s coordinating architecture (Ibid:300-302) . Third,the myriad inconsistencies in a complex institutional arrangement are more likely tobe reconciled in practice, through the implementation of projects and programs, thanthrough overarching harmonization attempts (Ibid:302-305). Thus although thenorms and rules embedded in the system’s design are clearly important and worthyof our attention, much of the system’s evolutionary impulse will work throughincremental changes, from the bottom up. This suggests that even when new institutions are created with ambiguousroles in a regime complex, actors within them can develop strategies to try toenhance their political authority. Indeed, it would seem very unlikely in such contextsthat an overarching power would ever “devolve” power to any component – powerneeds to be created. Our examination of river basin committees suggests that this isan arduous but necessary task: only where local actors within new deliberativeinstitutions struggled to build their own social and political capital were they able toredefine the political authority of those institutions. Where they waited for the state todevolve power to them, it rarely happened on its own.Water Resource Management as Regime Complex Up to the 1990s, such water “management” as took place in Brazil wasscattered, inconsistent, and specific to particular sectors or uses (dams, irrigation,sanitation, etc.), and to wealthier regions. Water in Brazil can be in either state orfederal domain,9 and at both levels, dozens of specialized agencies implementedtheir own agendas with little coordination. Municipalities, largely responsible for landuse, were rarely consulted by any of these state or federal agencies. Takingadvantage of the relative abundance of freshwater in some parts of the country,private firms and public agencies encouraged the development of a highlysophisticated hydrology and civil engineering capacity. Large dams fueleddevelopmentalist visions, and the focus on water for energy crowded out otherperspectives for most of the 20th century. For a long time, problems were addressedfrom the narrow perspective of a particular sector, agency, or set of users. Privateusers in a largely unregulated environment had little incentive to avoid pollution,9 Bodies of water that run along or across state or international borders belong to the Union.
  10. 10. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 9conserve water, or rationalize use. Environmental agencies and NGOs had fewinstruments to ensure that as multiple uses competed for water, biodiversity was notthreatened. Although some effort was made to develop a more integrated approachin some parts of the country, what few successes there were did not generatemultiplier effects. By the mid-1980s, however, competition over water for drinking andhousehold use, waste dilution, hydroelectric power, and irrigation was evident insome regions. Challengers to traditional engineering approaches to flood control anddrought drew sustenance from the repeated ravages of both. Water experts explorednew ideas, and many began to believe that a different, more holistic approach wasrequired. Proponents of reform drew upon ideas developed over the course ofdecades of international meetings on water issues; some of them were activeparticipants in these debates. The emerging model, sometimes known as IntegratedWater Resource Management (IWRM) (see Conca, 2005), comprised a set ofprinciples that included management of water for multiple uses, planning decisions tobe made at the river basin level where possible, participation of affected actors, and(most controversially) recognition of water as a resource with economic value, forwhose use and maintenance users should pay (Barth, 1998: 1).10 Beginning with São Paulo in 1991, most states outside Amazonia promulgatedlegislation incorporating these principles over the next decade or so, and a FederalWater law along these lines passed in 1997. The statutes provided for integratedmanagement of water supply and quality, identified the river basin as the appropriateterritorial unit for water resources planning and decision-making, and definedorganizational mechanisms for stakeholder participation in decisions at federal, stateand river basin levels. The system was to generate its own revenues through theimposition of bulk water charges (cobrança) on major water users (industries,sanitation companies, electric companies and irrigators) for the amount of water theyuse, as well as for polluting discharges. Unlike taxes, however, these revenues wereto remain in the river basin where they were collected. Further, becauserepresentatives of bulk water users would have seats on basin committees, they10 Ascribing economic value to water resources does not mean fully commodifying them; it does meanthat the cost of the resource itself, and not just its delivery and disposal, must be incorporated into theplanning and budgeting of both public and private actors. The Brazilian government rejectedrecommendations from institutions like the World Bank that it adopt a system of water markets on theChilean model.
  11. 11. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 10could influence the uses to which these revenues were put, transforming the watercharges into a form of investment. River basin committees were expected to set guidelines and priorities,determine pricing criteria for water charges, establish spending priorities forrevenues, and approve or set up executive “basin agencies” to carry out thesedecisions. Still, virtually any planning for water management required thecooperation of myriad municipal and state government agencies and a state leveldeliberative council on water resources, each of which had its own agenda,resources, and powers. More than 140 river basin committees have been createdunder a variety of state laws, in addition to seven committees in federal riverbasins.11 In the context of a system comprising institutions with radically divergentcapacities, resources, and histories, the decision to establish a system of integratedwater management by river basin cannot really be called a case of decentralizationby devolution. River basin committees could not simply “take over” responsibility forplanning and decisions that previously, when made at all, had been scattered amonga multitude of different agencies and jurisdictions, at municipal, state, and federallevels (and often remain among the attributions of these agencies to this day). Veryfew state governments had either the information or the human capacity to monitorwater use, let alone enforce directives to guide its development. Further, despite thefanfare with which many water committees were established, resources essential totheir functioning were scarce, late, or nonexistent. Implementation of cobrança raninto a plethora of legal and political obstacles; further, it soon became clear that onlyin a small number of wealthy river basins would it produce enough revenue to beworth the cost of implementing it. The new system is replete with jurisdictionalambiguities. In this unlikely context, it is not surprising that the general view of river basincommittees amongst water experts is pessimistic. Lacking effective incentives orsanctions, committees have no recourse when state governments simply ignore theirplans and priorities, or bypass them altogether on water management decisions.12They seem like little more than the weakest link in an extraordinarily weak system,doomed to failure from the start. Yet not all committees fail, and some of them start11, accessed on 11/06/0812 Neves (2004) demonstrates that the vast majority of river basin plans are never implemented.
  12. 12. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 11badly, yet somehow find their footing. As a formally created institution that has spacefor a variety of different actors, even toothless committees can sometimes becomearenas for generating and mobilizing resources and eventually even for transformingwhat the state does and can do (Abers and Keck, 2008 forthcoming). Of all of the components of the new water management regime complex, riverbasin committees probably elicit the most diverse range of expectations both fromtheir members and from other actors in the system. Although state and federal waterlaws speak to their legal domain of activity and attributions, they are only as vital andas powerful as they are made to be by their members, and as their interlocutors inother parts of the system recognize them as being. Unlike institutional componentsof the regime complex with specialized jurisdictions, the river basin committees arecharged with oversight of the big picture in their territorial domain. Their job is to planand establish priorities for other private and public actors. They were not reallyintended to propose and carry out projects of their own – this was to be the task oftheir executive agencies, few of which have been established. Moreover, part of thejustification for assigning the planning and priority-setting function to the basincommittees was the fact that their makeup was designed to reproduce in microcosm,the range of public and private components in the regime complex that were presentin the river basin. Thus at the same time as they exemplify an arena that bringstogether, theoretically, all the organizations - public agencies, private stakeholdersand representatives of diffuse interests (civil society organizations) – involved in andaffected by water management, they are also public entities that must coordinate withother organizations in the water management system. This dual nature of the river basin committees – in which they are both piecesof a complex system and microcosms of the whole – underpins paradoxically boththe committees’ weaknesses and their strengths. Members of the committeerepresenting state agencies and private sector actors can rarely make majordecisions binding upon the organization they represent. On the other hand, preciselybecause they bring together actors from throughout the system, when committees dogain influence, that influence can have ripple effects throughout the system. Thenewness of the committees, and the ambiguity and variation in expectations aboutthem, probably makes them the main terrain of experimentation within the regimecomplex. But their ability to transform water management more broadly – forexample, by promoting integrated water management among diverse organizations
  13. 13. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 12in the system -- depends on the degree to which these “bottom-up” impulses canenergize the coordination and implementation capacity of other actors in the systemwith the power and resources to pursue their goals. In the following sections, we discuss the political evolution of three river basincommittees in Brazil in order to look at how actors within the committees dealt withthis paradoxical position within the regime complex for the construction of politicalauthority. We chose these three cases because they demonstrate the diversity oftrajectories that new decision-making arenas can undergo when examined over areasonably long period of time (both the Itajai and Velhas committees were createdmore than a decade ago). In particular they suggest caution in labeling anorganization a “success” or a “failure”: it seems that a set of factors can recombine indifferent ways over time resulting in different and changing results.The Itajai River Basin Committee The Itajai River Basin Committee is the only one of the three that began withcivil society organization. The Itajaí River flows from the interior of Santa Catarinastate in the south of Brazil to the sea, about a hundred kilometers north of the statecapital, Florianópolis. With an economy of middle-sized farming, artisanship andsmall industry, the region is characterized by much lower levels of social inequalityand poverty than in most of Brazil. The total population of the basin is about onemillion (Projeto Marca d’Água, 2003). Devastating floods have long plagued theregion, and efforts in the 1970s-80s by the National Department of Sanitation Works(DNOS- Departamento Nacional de Obras de Saneamento) to control them withcontention dams proved inadequate. In the 1980s, work by a group of professors atthe FURB (Fundação Universidade Regional de Blumenau), spurred a group of localorganizations to contest DNOS’s approach, arguing that engineering solutionsneeded to be complemented with reforestation and other soft measures throughoutthe drainage area. This required an approach to water management from theperspective of the entire river basin. In the 1990s, a series of events created opened a window of opportunity forbasin-wide organizing.13 In 1992, two years after the government had abolishedDNOS, a devastating flood demonstrated the urgent need for investment in flood13 On political opportunity structure, see McAdam 1982; Tarrow 1994.
  14. 14. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 13control. In 1994, following the example of São Paulo, the Santa Catarina StateAssembly passed a water law, which called for creation of Basin Committees. Twoyears later, participants in a meeting of civic and university groups called byBlumenau’s Commercial and Industrial Association concluded that the new lawafforded them an opportunity to undertake the kind of basin-wide organizing whichsome had long proposed. The water specialists at FURB immediately took aleadership role (Mais, 2001). Within a few months, the group had put together an informal Basin Committee,made official by government decree a year later. The Committee had 65 members,representing water users, civic organizations, universities, municipal governmentsand state agencies. It started by convening organizations from around the basin tocome up with plans to solving specific problems, and then working together to seekstate or federal support to get the plans implemented. The first years of thecommittee´s existence were dedicated largely to the organization of workshopsbringing committee members together to discuss and eventually consolidate a visionof water management based on a series of “soft” measures (such as reforestation)that contested the state government’s traditional approach to flood control, based onheavy infrastructure in the river channel (Mais, 2001). With no funding proffered for this alternative approach, in 2001, committeemembers decided to move forward by pooling the resources of the localorganizations - the university (which also housed and bankrolled the committee’ssecretariat), the commercial association, and the municipalities in the basin (thoughmost of these were severely underfunded themselves). The resulting “RiverbankReforestation Program” involved forestry research, training courses for municipalemployees, and partnerships with 10 municipal governments for reforestationprojects.14 The Committee also organized an environmental education campaign, ayearly program called “Water Week” (Semana da Água), in which schools,community associations and other civic groups planned a variety of actions. Onceagain, the Committee worked primarily as a coordinator of other organizations, withfew outside resources. Water Week involved 76,000 people in the first year,organized in almost 500 local groups. In subsequent years participants havenumbered around 200,000 (including school children), representing about one fifth of14, accessed on Sept. 4, 2004.
  15. 15. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 14the basin’s total population. Besides its educational purposes, the Water Weekgreatly raised the Committee’s public profile, and its capacity to mobilize resources inthe following years. In 2004, a major injection of resources allowed the committee to take itsactivities to a new level. By that time, the committee had created an “executivebranch”, called a Water Agency. The agency won a national competition forenvironmental projects promoted by the state owned Petroleum Company,PETROBRAS. The resulting grant made it possible to build upon existing work inenvironmental education and reforestation, and to add a major component designedto help municipal governments create their own local environmental councils andimplement reforestation activities, for which the project provided training and someinvestment. The presence of more than twenty paid organizers, backed by theweight of the PETROBRAS name, who worked with municipal officials and couldprovide money (albeit small amounts) for local projects, vastly expanded thecommittee’s reputation and reach. This new phase of the committee represents animportant step forward in terms of resource mobilization: if in the early phase, thecommittee moved forward by getting the members of the committee themselves todonate their own resources to the cause, now the group has developed substantialfundraising capacities, allowing it to generate resources from outside themembership, indeed, from outside the region. Yet, although individuals interviewed in 2007 were generally satisfied that thecommittee had gained in public recognition and legitimacy acquired as a result of thePETROBRAS project, most remained frustrated by the lack of state support for theendeavor. The committee was still operating overwhelmingly on the basis ofvoluntary civic action – it was, for all intents and purposes, playing the role of anNGO. Even though several state employees do dedicate time to committeeactivities, most do so as “committed individuals”- they do not bring with them stateresources, policies or programs. In late 2007, in an attempt to move forward in this regard, Committeeleadership proposed a partnership with the state government to establish a wateruser registry. Such registries, the first step in any broad based effort at planning andregulation, still do not exist in a great many Brazilian states and, according to Itajaileadership, state water official doubted that they could to create one withoutresources. The committee proposal was to start with a volunteer, on-line registry. The
  16. 16. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 15government provided some personnel, the software, and an official decree calling forusers to sign up. The Committee members did the mobilization on the ground,disseminating information about the registry and encouraging users to sign up. In theend, more than 8500 users voluntarily registered. Finally, after a decade of struggle,the committee now had access to the most basic instrument for planning water use: adata base on who uses water, how much and where.The Velhas Committee The Rio das Velhas Basin Committee started out on a completely differenttrack from the one just described. The kinds of nongovernmental actors thatanimated the Itajaí process were barely in evidence in the process of creating thecommittee. Yet, from its inauspicious beginnings as a committee in name only, itdeveloped into one of the system’s most effective – again with a central role foruniversity-based environmentalists. The Rio das Velhas river basin in Minas Gerais has an estimated population ofabout four million people, concentrated in the metropolitan region of Belo Horizonte,Brazils third largest city. After flowing north through Belo Horizonte, the river passesthrough a poor and sparsely populated region of extensive agriculture and ranching,finally meeting the São Francisco river 761 kilometers from its source. Until 2001,there was no sewage treatment in the Belo Horizonte metropolitan region, and thecity’s waste left downstream stretches of the river significantly degraded. In the early1990s the state government proposed to address this problem by means of a WorldBank loan to build two sewage treatment plants and other sanitation infrastructure inBelo Horizonte. The loan agreement stipulated that a small portion of funds bededicated to improving water management more generally, including the creation of aBasin Agency. With the project in its final stages in 1997, the state governmentneeded to fulfill the water management component of its contract. Since the state’s1994 water law required that a Basin Committee be created before a Basin Agencycould be established, the Rio das Velhas Committee was quickly cobbled together inlate 1997. Little more than a “paper Committee,” for several years its meetings couldnot attract a quorum even to approve bylaws and elect an executive board. Settingup a Basin Agency thus proved to be far beyond its capacities and the sanitationworks ended up going forward without one.
  17. 17. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 16 Around the same time, a new civic group called Projeto Manuelzao began aseries of watershed restoration initiatives, whose importance soon eclipsed theofficial River Basin committee. This group began when professors in charge of arural internship program at the Medical School of the Federal University of MinasGerais, led by Apolo Heringer, a doctor with a history of political organizing, decidedto use the program to promote a more environmental perspective on health. Internsshowed community groups the connection between water conditions and disease,and helped organize river clean-ups and popular education efforts. This experiencerapidly expanded into the largest civil society program for river conservation in thestate. Within a few years, the Manuelzão Project (named after a legendary twentieth-century figure who traveled the region’s hinterlands) comprised 14 sub-projects,ranging from research to eco-tourism to environmental education in schools. Part ofthis effort included the creation of a network of local government officials, civicorganizers, business owners and other local leaders throughout the river basinthrough formation of community or municipal-level Comitês Manuelzão or ManuelzãoCommittees (Sousa, 2004: 108). The project provided the committees withprofessionals to analyze water problems, legal assistance to support public exposésof abusive practices, transportation and other help organizing events, and so on.Today there are over 80 Manuelzão Committees in the basin’s 51 municipalities. Alongside this highly decentralized organizing effort, the Manuelzão Projectformed dozens of higher-level partnerships, mostly with public institutions such as thestate forestry agency and the state sanitation company. These partnerships usuallyprovided support to projects the agencies had already initiated, involving activitiesranging from technical studies of a particular water problem, to visits to schools andcommunity projects. In effect, the Project connected under one “umbrella” a multitudeof activities, producing a degree of integration that might not have existed otherwise. It took several years before people involved in the Manuelzão Project began toget seriously involved in the Velhas River Basin Committee. The committee slowlybegan to get off the ground in 2000, when Belo Horizonte’s municipal environmentalsecretary, Paulo Maciel, a water specialist, became its president. Under hisleadership, the Committee took the first steps towards creating a Basin Agency, byinstalling a Technical Office to support planning and data collection. The committeealso began to exercise one of the most powerful attributions accorded basin
  18. 18. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 17committees by Minas Gerais state water law,15 that is, to analyze and pass judgmenton permits for water uses with high pollution potential. The chance to influence waterpermitting attracted the interest of the Manuelzão leadership. In 2001, when openassemblies were held for organizations in each category16 to elect newrepresentatives to the Committee, Manuelzão sought to get enough of its ownaffiliates onto the Committee to be able to elect Apolo Heringer as president.Although Maciel retained his office in that election, Heringer won a majority in 2003and was reelected in 2005. In early 2004, Heringer brought the Manuelzão Project’s latest campaign tothe Committee, effectively providing it with an agenda and a deadline around whichdifferent sets of activities could be organized. Meta 2010, or Target 2010 promotescollaboration of state government, the legislature, municipal governments and waterusers in a major partnership to make it possible to ‘navigate, fish and swim’ in theVelhas River by the end of the decade. In March 2004, Minas Governor Aécio Nevessigned an agreement committing the state government to the program, andnumerous state deputies and private businesses declared their support as well. OnDecember 10, 2004 the Velhas basin committee approved a water resources plangeared towards meeting the target (Jornal Manuelzão, 2004). The Minas governor’s espousal of the 2010 target meant that the planningprocess undertaken in the basin committee would have resonance in actual policy.This was a major commitment, involving the construction of waste treatment plantsand sewage interceptors in the major sub-basins of the Belo Horizonte metropolitanarea, as well as watershed restoration, environmental education and extensionservices, and the establishment of a network of monitoring stations to keep track ofwater quality. As part of this process, the Committee began to create operational subgroups,including subcommittees (beginning with Ribeirão da Onça, one of the most pollutedsections of the river, and followed by five others in 2006 and more thereafter), andspecialized commissions on water charges and permits, legal and institutional affairs,15 Minas Gerais is the only Brazilian state where basin committees must authorize large water permits.Such permits are a prerequisite for obtaining authorization for any economic activity that will usesubstantial amounts directly from water sources.16 The 28 seats on the Velhas committee are allocated to representatives of state government,municipal governments, water users, and civil society, of which categories has 7 seats or 25% of thetotal.
  19. 19. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 18planning and projects, and communication. In March 2007, the committee’s proposalthat the Associação Executiva de Apoio à Gestão de Bacias Hidrográficas Peixe Vivo(AGB-Peixe Vivo) be authorized to serve as its Basin Agency was approved by theState Water Resource Council. Nonetheless, it was clear that even with adeveloping capacity to initiate water charging and an executive agency to do the job,the potential cobrança revenues (estimated at around 50 million reais) remainedvastly inferior to the kind of spending necessary to meet the targets established in theplan (estimated at around a billion reais) (Jasper e Alkmin 2007: 6). Most of thecosts for basin cleanup have to be borne by the state government – a responsibilitythat at least for the moment, it remains formally ready to assume, in marked contrastto the government of Santa Caterina discussed above.The Paranoá Lake Basin Our third case is a counter example to both the Itajai and the Velhas cases.In both of those river basins, significant and sustained civic activism moved a wateragenda forward and associated it with river basin committees, despite absent orlukewarm state support in the initial phases. In the Paranoá case, by contrast, aninitially enthusiastic mobilization of civil society actors fizzled in the face ofgovernment disinterest. The Paranoá basin lies in the center of the Federal Districtof Brasília, whose construction included the damming of the Paranoá river to create alake in a region notably short of water resources. The Lake’s purpose was acombination of humidity control and sewage dilution for what was intended as a cityof no more than 500,000. The area of the lake’s drainage basin corresponds toalmost the entirety of the planned portion of the Federal District17. Indeed, originalplans considered the boundaries of the basin to also be the boundaries of plannedurbanization. Brasília’s population quickly spilled over its planned boundaries; shanty townsgradually became “satellite cities”. Brasília’s population now approaches 2 million,about six hundred thousand of which live within the Paranoá Basin. Theshantytowns are not the only irregular settlements in the region; others are middleclass gated communities (condomínios) for the tens of thousands of public17 Since the lake was dammed close to where it flows into the São Bartolomeu, the drainage area ofthe lack is only a little smaller than that of the river. This is the only river in the small Federal Districtthat does not cross over into neighboring states, making it the only one fully under the FederalDistrict’s dominion.
  20. 20. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 19employees who can no longer afford to live in the center city. This growth threatensthe ability of the Paranoá basin system to keep up with the needs for sewagetreatment – despite the existence of some of the most advanced treatment plants inthe country. By now, most of the water consumed in the basin is imported fromneighboring rivers. Unique institutional aspects of the Federal District, whosegovernment combines attributions of state and municipal jurisdictions, also bring landuse issues in closer contact with water issues. Historically, the Federal District has had fairly strong institutions in the area ofsanitation, but politically weak environmental organizations. The District WaterCompany, CAESB, with a well-qualified bureaucracy and significant resources,controlled water management issues. The Federal District was quick to enact awater law, along the lines of the São Paulo example and revised in 2000 to make itconsistent with the 1997 Federal statute. The sponsoring deputy, RodrigoRollemberg, was an important member of the opposition to the conservative governorJoaquim Roriz, who had dominated Brasilia’s politics since the Federal Districtgained political autonomy in the late 1980s.18 After this initial success, GustavoSouto Maior, a well-known environmentalist, and Paulo Salles, a biology professor atthe Federal University of Brasilia, both of whom were advisors to Rollemberg, set outto mobilize support for creating the first River Basin Committee in the District. In2000-2001, a politically diverse array of people from local universities,environmentalist NGOs, community organizations, sports groups, industries, alongwith a few state government employees working for the most part on their own time,held regular meetings and collected more than 50 letters of support from public andprivate water institutions, especially large water users. In November 2001, theCommission to Create the Paranoá Committee was officially created, reserving athird of the seats each for representatives of government, civil society and users. Toallay the governor’s concerns that the opposition would dominate the committee, ahigh-level official of his environmental secretariat was made Executive Secretary ofthe Commission, and the government announced that the committee would beinaugurated by the following April. In fact, it took five more years, and although the committee’s creation wasannounced in 2006, only recently has the mobilization process begun for elections to18 Before this period, the Federal District was under the control of the federal government.
  21. 21. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 20the seats. Participants in the 2000-2001 process blame the district government forstalling, accepting the initiative in word, but in not in deed. Legal complications madethis relatively easy. However, the 2000 statutory revision had also complicatedmatters by giving power to create river basin committees to the District Water Council– which was not formed until late 2002. During this period of impasse, the originalgroup dissipated. Because its goal had been to create a water committee rather thanto address particular problems of water management, it had no agenda of its own. Inthis respect, it differed from the groups that animated the activities of the Itajaí andVelhas committees. Oddly enough, the group rarely discussed substantive issuesrelated to water; instead, the focus was on the desirability of an arena where non-state actors could have a voice in environmental decision-making. Someparticipants, interviewed recently by Luiza Alencastro (2008, personalcommunication), attribute this to the fact that the federal district’s water relatedproblems do not yet seem urgent. The government has kept up with the need forinfrastructure investment, both with regard to sanitation and drinking water. Otherspecialists disagree, predicting that huge, impoverished settlements in the basin aredepleting the supply of well water at alarming rates, raising the possibility thatproblems might appear much sooner than expected.From Social Capital to Political Capital? Despite much fanfare in the late 1990s, the odds seemed to be against theemergence of river basin committees as vibrant arenas where politically importantdecisions would get made and actions taken. For the many who expected that theprominent role granted these committees in new legislation would soon make themcentral actors in a system of water management by governance, the fact that somany committees spent years getting off the ground was profoundly disillusioning(Abers and Dino, 2005). Certainly the expectation was exaggerated in the firstplace. Water committees were only one component of a complex system, many ofwhose other components either did not exist or did not perform in the ways intendedby the system’s designers. Further, the “integrated management” of water resourcesinvolves the adjudication of powerful state, private sector, and civic interests; it istherefore a thoroughly political proposition. Yet, the legislation and the newinstitutional arrangements required to make this integration happen were put intoplace with very little attention to the political support that would be necessary to make
  22. 22. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 21them real (Abers and Keck, 2005). In fact, for many of the water engineersendorsing the new system, the whole idea was to insulate decision-making on watermanagement from politics, understood as unabashedly self-interested partisanbehavior by politicians. But the very notion of managing water in the public interestrequires the political construction of the public concerned. Unexpectedly, webelieve, it is precisely this job in which many of the water committees we have beenstudying have been engaged. The Watermark Project has accompanied the development of fourteen riverbasin committees over the last eight years, along with shorter case studies of others(see Formiga-Johnsson and Lopes, 2003; and Fidelman, 2008). The comparison ofthese cases demonstrates a tremendous variety of starting points, trajectories andresults – suggesting at the very least that we should abandon the idea that justbecause committees are born with few resources and little power, they are doomedto irrelevance. Although many committees have progressed well beyond the mereformal installation that the Paranoá Lake committee has barely achieved, few havebecome central site in which important government decisions are negotiated andthrough which resources for implementation are mobilized, as occurred -- eventually -- in the Velhas River Basin. Most are somewhere in the middle, in that a committeebecame an important political actor in the field of water management, but not acentral decision-making forum for the state. Generally, the problem is not that stategovernments oppose basin committees’ performing such a role; it is that most give solittle priority to water management that no there is no publicly recognized role forsuch a body to play. Even though the committees in this middle group do not look like theauthoritative “Parliament of the Waters” that their proponents imagined, they may stillbe the most relevant regional or state actors in the field of water management, if onlyby elimination, as the only organizations that consistently struggle to keep watermanagement on the political agenda. This anomalous situation raises a number ofinteresting political questions. What keeps them going in the absence of supportfrom the other components of the “regime complex” of which they were supposed tobe apart? What kinds of resources and strategies are available to them to influencethat context, in the hope of gaining the political relevance and authority they weresupposed to have?
  23. 23. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 22 Our research suggests that those committees that moved forward did so bymobilizing the social capital and other resources (technical capability, money)available to them and using it to build political capital. How does this occur? In avariety of cases, we find that the groups involved started small, with concrete projectssupported by the resources of the people involved. In the Itajai Basin these were aseries of workshops to define solutions to problems and eventually the creation of aproject to promote that solution (based largely on the reforestation of river banks),funded by the university and civic groups. In the Velhas basin, the Manuelzão projectbranched out from a university internship project to mobilize dozens of local groupsaround problems specific to each place: domestic waste from an impoverishedriverside settlement, erosion caused by sand mining, risk of overflowing residuetanks of an iron mine, chronic dysentery in an urban shantytown. These kinds ofpractical actions seem to be essential for building trust among actors, demonstratingcapacity for action, and creating a public name and legitimacy. In the Paranoá Lakebasin, where leadership failed to establish such a practical mission, and where, in theabsence of legal recognition, nothing else remained to bring people together, theinitial mobilization effort dissipated.19 What transpires through this kind of practical, collaborative action? We believethat working together on small projects affords the opportunity to build andstrengthen networks among committee members and those they attract to theiractivities. Broadening these networks in turn amplifies the committee’s resourcebase, and eventually, we argue, its power. Networks in this case are structurescomprising linkages among individuals and/or groups, through which flow ideas,information, and material resources. Nan Lin (2001a,2001b) argues that they areclosely related to social capital. Robert Putnam famously defined social capital as“features of social organization, such as trust, norms, and networks that can improvethe efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated action” (1993: 167). Lin contendsthat the concept of social capital involves more than of the trust and reciprocity on19 These examples are not unique. We have observed the mobilizing effect of such concrete practicesin a substantial number of river basins studied by the watermark project: The Rio dos Sinos basincommittee developed an environmental education project with local schools. In the Araçuaí basin(Minas Gerais), committee activities have revolved around designing and monitoring a World Bankfunded basic sanitation project. In São Paulo, deliberated over the allocation of monies fromFEHIDRO, a state fund for water management projects, has helped mobilize actors and creating astarting point from which to move on to more ambitious projects.
  24. 24. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 23which Putnam focuses. Social capital for Lin is investible, defined as “resourcesembedded in a social structure which are accessed and/or mobilized in purposiveactions” (Lin 2001b: 12). That is, through networks, people can call upon differentkinds of resources held by other network members to make collective action morepowerful and effective. By approaching social capital in this way, we can understand politicalpractices as navigating the ground between agency and structure. The structuralposition of different actors affects their access to resources (Sewell, 1992). But actorscan deal with that structural endowment in a multiplicity of ways. When people withdifferent resources begin to work together, they discover ways to combine thoseresources in new ways and transform their resources as a group. When actors fromvery different networks begin to interact, this potential is particularly strong (thoughby no means inevitable). The multiplexity of networks, product of the variety ofexperiences and affiliations of each network member, facilitates access to differentkinds of resources and structures (Sewell 1992). River basin committees – along with other similar deliberative arenas – maybe fertile ground for such network building possibilities. Although as organizations,they have little formal power and few external resources, they do bring together awide variety of actors connected to a multiplicity of networks: industries, local politicalgroups, environmentalist, university researchers, and so on. This potential, however,must be activated. As long as those multiple actors see no reason to act together, itis unlikely that networks be connected and new resources generated. That is whyinitial, small scale practices seem to be so important: by demonstrating that the grouphas a capacity to act, they help build credibility and confidence for more ambitiousprojects. This sort of resource-pooling can help build internal trust and capacity, butdoes not necessarily build political capital. Political capital is accrued insofar as theactivities of a committee extend beyond its members to mobilize parts of the public insupport of its goals, and influence the ideas and behavior of politicians and publicofficials. This requires the development of projects that demand concrete, crediblecommitments – which are only likely insofar as the projects can be made politicallymeaningful to those whose support was needed. One key source of political capital is visibility and public credibility, promotedby certain types of activities more than others. The Manuelzão project invested
  25. 25. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 24heavily in public communication, with a widely disseminated newsletter and regularappearances in the news media, with careful attention to the message beingpresented. For example, in calling upon Governor Neves to speed up theimplementation of Target 2010, Heringer publically reminded him of the state’srenowned history of meeting targets, from the challenge of moving the capital fromOuro Preto to Belo Horizonte in 4 years, to Juscelino Kubitschek’s race to buildBrasilia and develop Brazil (Lisboa 2008:4) The Itajai committee was much lesssuccessful in this respect, but nonetheless has worked hard to involve municipalgovernments in its projects. Efforts such as Water Week mobilized huge numbers ofpeople at a relatively low cost (by working through schools) and disseminated theCommittee´s name in the early period. Like Manuelzão, by involving large numbersof ordinary citizens in watershed restoration activities the committee helped it gainpublic visibility. Outside recognition also seems to provide credibility and legitimacy thatstrengthens a committee´s claim to political authority. Interviewees in the Itajai basinrepeatedly noted that the support from PETROBRAS for the committee made localpeople see that it was a “serious” organization. Similarly, the existence of legislation creating committees and giving themformal attributions, however vague or weak it may be, remains a source of politicalcapital. In the Itajai basin, university researchers and other local people had beentrying for over a decade to organize people in the basin around the problem of floodcontrol to no avail. But when in 1994, the state followed São Paulo in the passage ofa water law that created River Basin Committees, the group had a new organizingtool. Local actors believed that an officially recognized committee would have agreater ability to pressure the state. Although the state government has remainedresistant, the committee’s official status is still a political asset allowing it to makeclaims for political authority. The leaders of the Projeto Manuelzão group, bycontrast, initially saw no reason to expect that the rather feeble basin committeebeing set up at the same time as it was forming could provide them with morecredibility or legitimacy than they could build on their own. But at a key point in theProject´s development, attachment to an organization that had formal politicalauthority seemed politically useful. By transforming the Target 2010 into a legallyapproved plan, the Committee was able to demand that it be implemented in a waythat was not available to the Manuelzão Project. Like the Itajai activists, the
  26. 26. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 25Manuelzão leaders wanted to be more than just an NGO: they used the formal statusof the committee to give greater political legitimacy to their actions. Not surprisingly, the ability of actors participating in these new arenas to gainpolitical capital is also strongly related to party politics. The contrast between theParanoá basin and the Velhas basin makes this clear. In Paranoá, the effort topromote the committee was spearheaded by advisors to an opposition politician. Inthis situation, there was little reason for the local government administration tosupport the project. In Velhas, on the other hand, the leadership of the Manuelzãoproject had political connections. Interviews repeatedly cited the close connectionsbetween Apolo Heringer Lisboa and high level political officials in the stategovernment, especially the state secretary of the environment and Aecio Neves, thegovernor. The predominance of progressive (PT, PSB, PSDB) state and citygovernments for most of the period under consideration here provided opportunitiesthat were not available to the Itajai activists, who faced a much less congenial set ofgovernors. Party politics seems especially important in river basins in close proximity tostate capitals. In Minas Gerais, the fact that the Velhas basin included the statecapital Belo Horizonte amplified the importance of political networks linking ProjetoManuelzão leaders and state government officials.20 The Itajai activists did not havethe same kinds of political assets, but did have strong social ties in the region aroundBlumenau, and were well connected both with regional environmentalist networksand the national technical networks of water engineers. It may be that for them,location outside the capital made developing high levels of local visibility and capacityless problematic for state political elites than it might otherwise have been. Differentkinds of resources and trajectories, then, can be mobilized for different purposes. Figure 1 is an attempt to visually summarize the complex interrelationship ofvariables discussed here. As Raustiala and Victor (2004) suggest, in regimecomplexes change is likely to occur at least as much through bottom-up experimentswith policy implementation as through policy coordination from the top. River basincommittees and similar deliberative arenas seem to be ideal for such20 Apolo Heringer Lisboa was a founding member of the Workers’ Party, had been a well-knownstudent radical, and vice president of the National Student Union (UNE) in 1966. One of his morenotable acts of the period was, upon receiving his diploma in medicine in December 1967, to dedicateit to the memory of Che Guevara, who had been killed in Bolivia just two months earlier. Exiled in1973, he returned to Brazil (and Belo Horizonte) with the 1979 amnesty (Machado 2003).
  27. 27. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 26experimentation, because they bring together groups with a wide array of resources.In the more successful cases presented here, leaders in the river basin started small,with concrete projects that helped build social capital – an ability among members topool and use their own resources through networks, which resulted in trust amongmembers and increased confidence in the capacity to carry out more ambitiousprojects. When those broader projects allowed the organization to gain publicvisibility and credibility, they began to transform their social capital into politicalcapital. If the former is associated with an ability to carry out projects with their ownresources, the latter has to do with being able to influence other organizations,Figure 1: Building Political Authority Social Capital (mobilized Party resources, trust, People, Organizations,Resources Support internal credibility) External Support More Legal ambitious Recog- Concrete projects nition practices Political capital Visibility, (Public Credibility) POLITICAL AUTHORITYespecially the state. The ability to transform social capital into political capital islimited, however, by the political context in which it occurs. Where the neworganization gains formal recognition (legal status) and political support from more
  28. 28. Rebecca Abers, Margaret Keck 27powerful, higher level institutions, they can move much further in the quest toinfluence policy. Such direct political support seems to be particularly rare At the same time as they illustrate the development of political capital in andby the basin committees, the examples presented in this paper suggest thatcommittees may play an important mobilizational role for the system and idea ofwater resource management more generally. Instead of being essentially normativebodies involved in planning and establishing priorities that would be enacted by othercomponents of the system, the committees have had to ensure that the prospectiveenacters were present and willing to do their job. Much more than “decision-makingarenas”, those river basin committees that gain some political authority are activistorganizations that promote concrete visions of water management and seek totransform the system within which they work. This activist role seems quite far removed from the theoretical debates aboutgovernance and participation in public decision-making in which political sciencediscussion of this kind of organ usually occurs. Yet without a view of deliberation thatlinks it to action, the idea of participatory and/or collaborative governance remains asterile conception. By focusing on their actions, and not just on their [in]ability toperform the formal roles attributed to them in water management legislation, wediscover in the stories of these committees unexpected agency. An assessment ofwhether their role in decision-making democratizes public policy or not seemspremature, in that the first step has to be making the policy public in the first place.And this is fundamental for building what Lukes (2005[1974]) called the thirddimension of power: the power to define what issues should be considered political.BibliografiaAbers, Rebecca, 2000. Inventing Local Democracy, Boulder, Lynne Rienner.Abers, Rebecca N. 2007, “Organizing for Governance: Building Collaboration in Brazilian River Basins”. World Development. , v.35, p.1450 - 1463, 2007.Abers, Rebecca N. and Dino, Karina Jorge. “Descentralização da Gestão da Água: Por que os Comitês de Bacia Estão Sendo Criados?” Ambiente e Sociedade, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2005.Abers, Rebecca and Keck, Margaret. 2005. “Águas Turbulentas: Instituições e Práticas Políticas na Reforma do Sistema de Gestão da Água no Brasil” IN: MELO, M. A.; LUBAMBO, C. W. & COELHO, D. B. (orgs.) Desenho
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