Water Wars and Warriors: Field Actors and the International Water Crisis
Montgomery, A. Wren
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The actions of a variety of actors in the institutional or organizational field shape the rules of the game as well as the tactics, actions and forms of organization that are considered possible and legitimate. Yet despite a burgeoning literature on fields, the understanding of the role of endogenous field agents and their potential to change or maintain field structures remains relatively limited. In this dissertation I examine an increasingly contested field, U.S. municipal water services, through in-depth qualitative case studies and interviews in Detroit and Chicago. I seek to offer insight into the role of these agentic actors in field transition in three related studies. First, I address the role of individual or micro-level actors and their interactions with macro-level actors as transnational institutional changes are introduced to the field. I argue that heretofore unacknowledged and informal field configuring events offer important opportunities for change. Next, I explore the work of actors in fighting to maintain existing institutional structures, namely public water services, in the face of change. I identify novel variations in the types of actors who perform this work and the forms of institutional renewal work they perform. Lastly, I examine the often-overlooked role of central corporate actors in field change and offer a theoretical argument for taking these actors more seriously in our conceptualizations of field change and maintenance. Specifically, I seek to offer insight to the role of central field actors and what conditions may induce core and embedded actors to act to change the field, contrary to the predictions of much extant field theory. In addition to theoretical contributions these studies offer practical guidance to managers, policymakers, and members of the public as they seek to understand and better manage the complex and multifaceted emerging water crisis, and the conflicts and challenges that surround it.