Recent debates have questioned whether reciprocity constitutes a threatened form of social insurance or a nascent and promising pathway toward development. This debate is of vital importance for understanding how the urban poor survive in the face of subsistence challenges that are likely to intensify in the future. In this article, I present an in-depth analysis of reciprocal exchanges of water in a water-scarce squatter settlement in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative analyses, I demonstrate (1) how reciprocal exchanges of water are conducted in an urban setting; (2) that these water exchanges conform to a social insurance model of reciprocity; and (3) that such reciprocal exchanges are consistent with the moral economy of water documented elsewhere in the Andes. I conclude that reciprocity, while capable of safeguarding subsistence, is not a solution for people whose survival is continually threatened by larger political and economic forces that create water insecurity, resource inequity, and social exclusion among the urban poor.
- Moral economy
- Water insecurity
- Water scarcity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)