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


Refereed Journal Articles

“The Limits of Insulation: The Long-Term Political Dynamics of Public-Private Service Delivery,” International Development Planning Review, Forthcoming 2021.

The Promise of Proximity: The Politics of Knowledge and Learning in South-South Cooperation between Water Operators,” with Gabriella Carolini and Daniel Gallagher.  Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 2018, 37:7, 1157-1175.

Participação Social e Desigualdades nos Conselhos Nacionais” (Public Participation and Inequality in National Councils), with Joana Alencar, Igor Fonseca, Roberto Pires and Uriella Ribeiro. Sociologias, 2013, 15:32, 112–146.

Articles Under Review

“Feminicide & Counterdata Collection: Activist Efforts to Monitor and Challenge Gender-Based Violence,” with Catherine D’Ignazio, Helena Suarez Val, Silvana Fumega, Maria de los Angeles Martinez, Mariel Garcia-Montes, Harini Suresh and Wonyoung So, 2020.
Book Chapters
“Infrastructure: The Harmonization of an Asset Class and Implications for Local Governance,” with Gabriella Carolini. In The Routledge Handbook of Financial Geography. Edited by Knox-Hayes, J. and Wójcik, D. Routledge, forthcoming.

“Teaching Participatory Action Research: The Search for Pedagogical Insights,” with Lawrence Susskind and Dayna Cunningham. In (Participatory) Action Research: Principles, Approaches and Applications. Edited by Calder, J. and Foletta J. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2018.

“Participação Social no Planejamento Federal: um olhar a partir das Conferências Nacionais de Políticas Públicas,” with Joana Alencar and Uriella Ribeiro. In Planejamento Brasil século XXI: inovação institucional e refundação administrativa: elementos para o pensar e o agir. Edited by José Celso Cardoso Jr. Brasília: IPEA, 2015, 259–294.

“Conferências típicas e atípicas: um esforço de caracterização do fenômeno politico,” with Clóvis Souza, Paula Lima, Joana Alencar and Uriella Ribeiro. In Conferências Nacionais: atores, dinâmicas participativas e efetividade. Edited by Leonardo Avritzer and Clóvis Souza. Brasília: IPEA, 2013, 25–52.

“Feminismo e Fórum Social Mundial: revendo a relação entre redistribuição e reconhecimento.” In Fórum Social Mundial: a transnacionalização da sociedade civil brasileira. Edited by Marisa von Bülow. Brasília: Universidade de Brasília, 2013, 115–136.

“Feminicide & Machine Learning: Detecting Gender-based Violence to Strengthen Civil Sector Activism,” with Catherine D’Ignazio, Helena Suarez Val, Silvana Fumega, Harini Suresh, Wonyoung So, Maria de los Angeles Martinez, and Mariel Garcia-Montes. Mechanism Design for Social Good Workshop (MD4SG), August 17-19, 2020. (New Horizons Award for Most Inspiring Paper)

“Two-headed monsters? The Politics of Public-Private Relations in Water & Sanitation Provision in Brazil.” Effective States and Inclusive Development Conference, Manchester, UK, September 9-11, 2019.

“Muddled Waters: Unraveling Public-Private Relations in Mixed-Ownership Water & Sanitation Companies in Brazil.” 57th Annual Conference of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Denver, CO, October 12-15, 2017. (GPEIG Best Student Paper on International Planning Award)

“The Power of Proximate Peers: Practical Learning and Teaching Among South American Water and Sanitation Operators,” with Gabriella Carolini and Daniel Gallagher. Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Lima, Peru, April 29–May 01, 2017.

“Fluid Dynamics: Politics and Social Struggle in São Paulo’s Water Crisis.” 47th Urban Affairs Association Conference, Minneapolis, MN, April 19-22, 2017.

“Condicionantes e influências de desenhos institucionais em Conferências Nacionais,” with Clóvis Souza, Joana Alencar and Uriella Ribeiro. Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 1, 2013.

“Participação social e desigualdade nos conselhos nacionais,” Roberto Pires, Joana Alencar and Igor Fonseca. VIII Encontro da Associação Brasileira de Ciência Política. Gramado, August, 2012.
Other Work
New uses for old rivers: Rediscovering urban waterways,” with Andrea Beck. Projections, 14, 2019. (Edited volume)

"Configuring the World: A Critical Political Economy Approach Richard T. Griffiths." Journal of Economic Geography, 2018, 18:3, 687–688. (Book review)

Como a Participação Social fortalece a Democracia,” with Roberto Pires, Joana Alencar and Paula Lima. Carta Capital, June 2014. (Opinion essay)


Opportunities to teach and mentor students have been some of the most gratifying and stimulating experiences I have had at MIT. I have been a teaching assistant for graduate courses focused on international development, research design, and qualitative methods. For my role as co-instructor for a research design and methods course for first-year Ph.D. students at the Department of Urban Studies and Planning I was awarded the MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award in 2019.

MCP Thesis Prep, Urban Studies and Planning, MIT 
Teaching Assistant, Master’s level, Faculty: Gabriella Carolini

Research Design for Policy Analysis and Planning, Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Co-instructor, PhD level, Faculty: Amy Glasmeier
- Awarded 2019 MIT Graduate Student Council Teaching Award for role as co-instructor

Introduction to International Development Planning, Urban Studies and Planning, MIT 
Teaching Assistant, Graduate level, Faculty: Balakrishnan Rajagopal

Water Diplomacy Workshop, Program on Negotiation, Harvard University
Teaching Assistant, Professional level, Faculty:  Lawrence Susskind and Shafik Islam

Theory and Practice of Participatory Action Research, Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
Teaching Assistant, Graduate level, Faculty: Lawrence Susskind and Dayna Cunningham

© 2020 Isadora Cruxên. All rights reserved.