International Development Planning Review

The limits of insulation: the long-term political dynamics of public-private service delivery

International Development Planning Review Ahead of print, 1–27.


Public-private collaboration is deemed critical for improving service delivery in the global South. This article examines how relations between state and private investors develop over time - and, by extension, how they affect service delivery - in different collaborative arrangements. Through a comparative historical analysis of two mixed-ownership water and sanitation companies in Brazil, the article challenges conventional policy prescriptions that focus on the role of institutional rules in governing public-private relations and insulating service provision from politics. The findings show the importance of understanding how organisational factors - such as the type of private participation - intersect with political processes to (re-)configure public-private relations and the direction of service delivery temporally. The cases both unflatten generic treatments of private participation and problematise the emphasis on institutional solutions that seek to depoliticise service delivery. In fact, insulation may risk closing political channels through which more progressive service outcomes can be achieved.

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Author details

Cruxên, Isadora Araujo