Shifting networks of power in Nicaragua: Relational materialisms in the consumption of privatized electricity

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Drawing primarily on actor-network theory, this article explores the aftermath of electricity privatization in Nicaragua. Privatization has not gone well for most low-income consumers in Nicaragua, who have faced rising and unaffordable tariffs and frequent power cuts that have been economically and psychologically devastating. Scholarship on privatization has focused on the social injustices and exclusions that privatization often engenders, but very little attention has been paid to how privatization is enacted materially. To implement privatization successfully across space, privatizers have to delegate some of their action to nonhumans that they anticipate will function as black-boxed intermediaries. In landscapes of economic hardship and popular suspicion, however, these intermediaries sometimes turn into mediators or technologies with political effects. Electricity consumers have resorted to a range of tactics to subvert the strategies of Spanish multinational Uníon Fenosa, which took over the distribution of electricity, and these tactics have involved the creative and opportunistic enrollment of nonhumans. By tracing the shifting associations between the heterogeneous actors that make up the electricity (actor-) network, I seek to illuminate the relational materialisms in the consumption of privatized electricity and their potential for political transformation. An actor-network theory approach enables us to observe, amidst the entanglement of neoliberalizing maneuvers and disabling effects, material practices and translations in the network that are not always disempowering for ordinary people. It also reveals the contingency of multinational power and the (un)making of the global political economy in the spaces of everyday life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)939-948
Number of pages10
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number4
Early online date11 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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