Isadora Cruxên
PhD Candidate | MIT


My research engages with two interrelated themes: 1) the politics of capitalist development in the Global South, with a focus on Latin America; 2) forms of contentious and participatory politics that contend with the social and environmental repercussions of development. My current work focuses on the financing and governance of urban infrastructure services such as water and sanitation as a central space for the study of these dynamics.

‘Disordering Capital’

My dissertation project, Disordering Capital, attends to the challenge of financing urban infrastructure development and improving service delivery in developing countries. Fiscal constraints and capital shortfalls often hinder the ability of governments to more effectively and sustainably provide needed infrastructure services to their citizens. Dominant development advice encourages a turn to finance and to public-private partnerships as means for closing financing gaps. However, existing scholarship tends to treat the “private sector” as a generic and apolitical actor, limiting our understanding of the political, social, and environmental ramifications of varying financial arrangements, types of investor, and business strategies. My dissertation unflattens—or disorders—this generic treatment to explore how private capital is variously organized—and, ultimately, how this heterogeneity matters for urban governance and service provision. Empirically, I do so by examining the historical organization and development of the water and sanitation market in Brazil. Through a combination of historical analysis, ethnographic fieldwork, and a novel dataset on public-private collaboration, I trace emergent processes of financialization to understand a) how variation in type of private investment shapes relations with state actors and local service delivery, and b) how the turn to finance creates political conditions for market-oriented institutional reforms. For my dissertation work, I was awarded the Martin Fellowship for Sustainability at MIT.

Democracy, activism, and social justice

My work has also explored democratic institutions and mobilization around social justice and environmental sustainability. As a research fellow at the Institute for Applied Economic Research in Brazil, I contributed to research on the potential for state-society interactions taking place within participatory institutions such as national policy councils to deepen democratic decision-making across a range of policy domains. Our work resulted in a number of publications and policy reports. My prior research as a master’s student explored contentious processes of social mobilization around a water supply crisis in São Paulo city. My ethnographic work highlighted how activists deployed flexible mobilization frames to denounce the distributive consequences of market-based models of water supply, navigate relations with the state, and facilitate coalition-building. More recently, as a member of the Data+Feminism Lab at MIT, I have contributed to a participatory action research project designed to explore how technology and machine learning can support the work of civil society activists who monitor gender-based violence and feminicide in the US and Latin America.

Jardim Colombo, São Paulo.
Photo by Isadora Cruxên, 2019

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