Theses Doctoral

Policy Diffusion and Drinking Water Services in Latin America, 1980-2014

Larocque, Florence

Understanding how domestic institutions and actors interplay with international and foreign influences is key not only to understand the politics of decision-making in the globalized world we live in, but also to understand why global policies – or policies promoted by transnational and international actors – may (or may not) be implemented and have the intended effects “on the ground.” This dissertation sets to disentangle the all too often conflated parts of these dynamics by separately addressing the domestic processes of adopting, enforcing, as well as, in certain cases, preparing policy change influenced from abroad. It does so through the lens of the politics of drinking water and sanitation in Latin America from 1980 to 2014 and consists in three independent papers.
The first paper addresses the diffusion of politicized policies, and more precisely the privatization of drinking water and sanitation services. This paper highlights one overlooked dimension of policy diffusion processes and more specifically of privatization processes: the preparatory measures adopted (or not) by governments prior to privatization. It suggests that the ability of governments to adopt gradual preparatory measures depends on the time horizon of privatization deciders and the political cost this preparatory gradual policy change may entail for the process. Theoretically, it contributes to the neo-institutionalist literature by adding a “preparatory” type of change to the existing framework of gradual institutional policy changes. Substantively, it underlines the redistributive consequences of privatization processes and the political dynamics behind the level of political risk these reforms may entail.
The second and third papers underline the multifaceted effects of state capacity on policy diffusion for non-politicized (or technical) policies through the empirical analysis of the domestic adoption and implementation of drinking-water quality standards following the promotion of the World Health Organization’s drinking-water quality guidelines. The second paper argues that strong state capacity tends to limit the adoption of a diffused policy that represents a strong domestic challenge. It contributes to the institutionalist literature by underlining the relevance to compare and measure state capacity on the basis of its resources (required to project its power), rather than on its ends or outcomes (which depend on the political choices that were made by the state).
The third paper presents the other side of the coin of the impact of state capacity on diffusion of non-politicized policies, at the implementation step. At this step, strong state capacity gives the capacity to extensively implement a diffused policy, but implementation will remain partial if there are no external pressures on the sector. In weak states, policy diffusion can be both window-dressing and frame-shaping, depending on political dynamics. To be frame-shaping, it needs a sustained foreign capacity support (that can compensate for the weakness of the state) and strong external pressures.
Overall, this thesis disentangles the policy diffusion process by highlighting that receiving states and actors are not only passive agents but also proactive ones, regarding the adoption, enforcement, and preparation of policy changes influenced from abroad. It also contributes to the understanding of two dimensions of water reforms in Latin America largely overlooked by the literature and policy studies: measures lessening the privatization shock and drinking-water quality standards. These issues, less salient than strongly politicized ones (like privatization itself), are as consequential in the life of states and their citizens, especially for their health and wellbeing.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Larocque_columbia_0054D_14935.pdf Larocque_columbia_0054D_14935.pdf application/pdf 2.55 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Murillo, Maria V.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2018