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6 Twitter tips for busy academics (based on my own strategy)

Many fellow academics, when they meet me in real life, ask me if I really tweet every single minute of the day (if you follow me on Twitter, you probably have seen me tweet a lot). The reality is… I don’t. I actually tweet a lot less than you think I do. Here’s what I actually do.

Because I’m the creator and weekly shepherd of #ScholarSunday, a lot of people (I believe) follow me for content that they find interesting, in their own disciplines. Since I follow broadly (in political science, public policy, public administration, human geography mainly, but also in anthropology, sociology, engineering) and I read broadly as well, many a time people will see tweets that are NOT in their own discipline or interest area. I’ve come to accept that this is ok. So, I divide my tweets in two sets: content tweets (e.g. stuff that I write about that I think my readers may be interested in) and retweets.

1. I schedule content tweets.

I use a tool called Buffer to schedule tweets (you can also use HootSuite). I usually do this for #ScholarSunday simply because I can’t (and I don’t want to!) be glued to the internet all day long. I also schedule tweets promoting my own blog posts, and #GetYourManuscriptOut.

2. I prioritize @ replies (mentions) and try to respond to all of these.

Because I started using Twitter as a conversational tool, I answer back to everyone (or almost everyone) who tweets me. Given the number of people who follow me often times I miss tweets (which I hope people won’t think is a snub). But I try to make it a priority to respond first and foremost. Conversation is what I find more interesting on Twitter.

3. My second priority is to RT content

Given that I often act as a distributional node (if you’re into network theory, I’m at the center of a pretty large academic social network), I am often asked to retweet stuff for a broader audience, or I find stuff (job opportunities, fellowship opportunities) that I think will benefit my followers. So, that takes the second priority. First, I converse. Second, I retweet.

4. I tweet during “dead times”.

If you see tweets that don’t come from Buffer, it’s likely I’m waiting for the bus, I’m on the bus, I’m waiting in between meetings… I use times that I normally would be doing nothing to tweet/retweet.

5. I accept that I won’t see everything on Twitter, so I delve every so often and without regret.

Given that I’m not often at my desk, I simply open Twitter to see if there’s something interesting. I’ll tweet during a limited period of time, and then I’ll go back to whatever I’m doing.

6. When I am overwhelmed, I go back to my Twitter lists.

If I feel that there’s too much content I simply check my Twitter lists. This allows me to only focus on those people who I have included in those lists. You can create lists particularly to focus on specific scholars/topics.

Hopefully my readers will benefit from these tips!

Posted in academia, social media for teaching.

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World Toilet Day and the global politics of sanitation

World Toilet DayNovember 19th marks World Toilet Day, perhaps the one day that justifies what has been the bulk of my scholarly research for the past 11 years. When you realize that World Toilet Day was founded in 2001 by Jack Sim, from the World Toilet Organization, and that it’s only been in the past three years or so that it has been adopted as a United Nations sanctioned official day (with UN Water as the official agency for WTD), you realize that the politics of global sanitation are much more complex than simply shining a light on the fact that more than a billion people still defecate in the open.

I’ve written before on how toilets are political. Access to toilets has been used to control individuals’ lives (through what Foucault calls biopower, the foundation of his scholarship on biopolitics). Can you imagine? Depriving humans from one of their foremost human rights, the right to relieve themselves and fulfill a bodily function that necessitates privacy and dignity? Ironically, as I demonstrated a couple of weeks ago when I gave a talk on the human right to water from a public policy analysis perspective at the University of Connecticut, the human right to sanitation is conceptually separated from the human right to water. Scholars in the field are keen to discuss how human beings have a right to access enough water for their livelihoods. But when it comes to discussing the human right to sanitation? Almost nowhere to be found.

Dual flushing toiletI’ve also been extremely critical of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in their “oh we’re totally going to change the world”, magic-pixie, fairy-dust, flying-unicorn version. Sanitation is the goal where the least progress has been done. Between 2.4 and 2.5 billion people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet, and over 1 billion (a number that grew from 936 million) people still defecate in the open. Heck, in downtown Vancouver you can find open defecation because homeless people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet! So, for me, the politics of sanitation governance are real because the big problems include lack of proper implementation mechanisms and political will to solve the issues.

There’s been a lot written about the behavioral determinants of sanitation adoption, and the potential for community-led total sanitation (CLTS). But I strongly believe that, alongside trying to understand why are toilets adopted or not, we need to create the political and societal conditions for global toilet access first. We need to think and talk about sanitation in the same breath as we do with water access. In some ways, as Joe Turner said, the human right to sanitation is even more important than the human right to water.

I’ve written before about the main topic for this year’s World Toilet Day:

Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation” is the theme for this year’s World Toilet Day, which seeks to put a spotlight on the threat of sexual violence that women and girls face due to the loss of privacy as well as the inequalities that are present in usability. Toilets generally remain inadequate for populations with special needs, such as the disabled and elderly, and women and girls requiring facilities to manage menstrual hygiene. With the tagline “WeCantWait”, the Day is an opportunity to inspire action and underscore the urgency needed to end open defecation, especially for the women and girls who are particularly vulnerable.

It worries me that it’s 2015 and we are still not there yet with the sanitation goals. Hopefully World Toilet Day will help galvanize people to make a difference, be it twinning a toilet, donating to a sanitation-focused charity or simply, spreading the word. Because We Can’t Wait.

Posted in academia, research, wastewater.

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On the need for reflection in academic writing

Three weeks ago, I submitted a grant proposal for a project that would require four researchers (me and 3 others) to engage in a water conflicts project. I wrote the grant proposal in basically, three hours. 3 hours where nobody else but me, my colored pens, and my notebook were in the same space (mental, physical in terms of location and in terms of lack of activity). I had both the mental AND the physical space to write the grant proposal (I had finished my meetings and keynote lecturing commitments and I was waiting for my flight back home). I was able to write a new grant proposal, with fresh thoughts, because I had the time for reflection. What bothers me is how a lot of things occupy our time, as busy academics (graduate students and professors) we end up lacking the time and mental space we need for exactly the thing we are supposed to be doing.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

It took having to come to University of Connecticut for a few days to give two talks to force me to write a talk on the human right to water from a public policy analysis perspective and preparing Power Point slides for another talk on deep ethnography, transnational activism and vulnerable communities. Both talks will become papers in their own. But it took having to commit to do these activities to really engage with these topics again. It took having to come to a different country (the US) and university (UConn Storrs) for me to dialogue with other bright students and faculty members from other universities to engage deeper in my own work.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

The fact that our busy lives force us to do a lot of things fast and hurriedly has made me more keenly aware of the need for time for self-reflection and a defender and promoter of “slow research”. Those 2 hours in the morning when I write, I often write reflections, rather than “generative text”. That is, I give myself the morning hours not only to write papers, but also to write memorandums, reflective notes to myself, etc. Otherwise I will never move forward in my research trajectory. If I don’t MAKE time to take a self-reflective stance and think hard about my next steps in my academic career, I will not be able to progress. I will be spinning my wheels, and that would pretty much derail everything I have been working so hard to achieve in the past three years. I cannot allow for this to happen.

#AcWri and reflection and highlighting

I also have decided to start blogging about my research interwoven with other scholars’ writings (e.g. engaging in an intellectual dialogue across our respective work, see for example my “conversation” with a recent piece by Murdie and Urpelainen). This is a new model for self-reflection for me. I know several people who think that spending as much time as I do engaging with the literature when I prepare my lecture slide deck, or even when I read and highlight papers is in some way a waste of time or an inefficient use of the same. But in my view it is not. Writing memos, highlighting, writing notes on the margin, reading itself and looking at data and creating datasets are all activities that require deep engagement, not superficial browsing.

Therefore, to be perfectly honest, I am really glad in some ways that I travel as much as I do. I take time to read, do some writing, reflect, highlight, etc., while I am travelling. Since I teach twice a day, two days per week, and I spend a lot of time preparing my lectures, any time I can get to reflect on my research needs to be maximized. Again, I just find it ironic. Our profession is all about “think hard, reflect, expand your horizons” and the reality is, we have become paper-churning machines. Whether this is the result of the corporatization of the university or the nature of academic life, I am not going to debate, but what I will continue to do is carve time and protect it for my own self-reflection.

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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The human right to water: A public policy analysis perspective #UConnRight2Water

I promised I would post the crib of my talk at the UNESCO Chair & Institute for Comparative Human Rights, as well as the slides. If you are interested in reading the tweetage coming from the conference, you can do so here too.


I want to take this opportunity to thank the UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights for inviting me to give a talk at their 16th Annual International Conference here at University of Connecticut. The conference focus, the Human Right to Water, is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and one of the foci of my scholarship for a number of years now. Thank Dr. Bandana Prukayastha for chairing the panel and co-chairing the conference, Dr. Omaara-Otunnu & the organizers, staff and volunteers. Dr. Mark Healey – thank you so much for your generous giving of your time to host me, and Dr. Prakash Kashwan, thanks for your kind feedback and for attending and promoting my talks. Very grateful.

I am honored to be sharing the podium with two scholars and activists whose work I deeply respect, Professor Christiana Peppard and Ms. Candace Ducheneaux. Dr. Peppard’s research on global water ethics and Ms. Ducheneaux’s work on collaborative ecosystem restoration and rainwater harvesting techniques in South Dakota are both profoundly inspiring and I’m humbled and honored to be in their company here. Both of these amazing women work in areas that are often forgotten and their scholarship and activism highlight a commitment to the proper implementation of the human right to water in their respective fields.

My field of study (the global governance of water and sanitation) is also often forgotten, in particular the wastewater and sanitation side. This is regrettable since more than 2.4 billion people lack the dignity of access to a toilet. Yes, that is true. More than 1 in 3 people worldwide lack access to the most basic need a human being can have: relieving themselves from one of their most fundamental physical needs: excreting waste. More than 900 billion people still defecate in the open, and we missed the Millennium Development Goal on sanitation by at least 15 years. Despite having been recognized as one of the most important health discoveries of the century, the toilet is still shunned, and so is the need for access to them. Lack of proper sanitation has a disproportionately large negative effect on women and girls because of the potential for sexual violence against them in their search for private locations to relieve themselves.

Most of my work has concentrated on the human and political dimensions of cooperative and uncooperative resource governance. My work on the human right to water literature has made two arguably bold and controversial but necessary claims. First, that ensuring global access to sanitation facilities is equally if not more important than access to clean water . And second, that bottled water as a global industry represents a threat to the global implementation of the human right to water. For this talk, I have framed my claims in the form of research questions I’ve been tackling, and I have added an additional one:

1) First, why is the human right to water mobilized as a frame of meaning against water privatization (aka public service delivery) and NOT against bottled water?
2) Second, why are we so concerned about how we can implement the human right to water when it’s not even clear governments at all three levels (and citizens) understand what it means in practical terms?
3) And third, why is the human right to water practically separated from the human right to sanitation (for all practical purposes), when we have a complete and closed hydrological cycle?

With regards to the first puzzle, I find it fascinating that Mexican activists have used human right to water as a conceptual and mobilizing frame for anti-privatization campaigns rather than anti-bottled water campaigns. In the last few years, the Mexican federal government has been pushing for privatization of water supply, even attempting to make it part of the new General Water Law proposal. This proposal was obviously quickly shut down, partly because of strong activist pressure, but also because of academics’ involvement in its analysis and subsequent critique. Anti-water privatization activism has been popular in Latin America, as demonstrated by Romano with the Nicaraguan case study (Romano 2012), Mirosa with the Bolivian example (Mirosa 2012), and Pacheco-Vega with the Mexican case (Pacheco-Vega 2015a). For a new research project, I have been following the protests against Nestlé in California in the US and British Columbia in Canada in order to compare strategic mobilizations against bottled water and against water supply privatization in North America. I find that mobilizing against privatized water utilities is conceptually and strategically simpler for activists rather than lobbying against the Goliath of powerful transnational bottling water companies. Strategically, anti-privatization activists face less resource consumption in the case of targeting private water supply than when taking on transnational corporations such as Nestlé and Danone. In my previous research on transnational environmental activism I have found that one of the best strategies to mobilize policy action has been to build transnational and global coalitions that put pressure on domestic governments (Pacheco-Vega 2015b, 2015c). Anti-privatization protests have been able to exert more pressure because of an increased global focus on, for example, the Irish and Detroit cases. There is a shared frame of meaning: all populations, whether rich or poor, have a right to water. But we still haven’t found as much of a homogeneous frame of meaning in the case of bottled water. However, as Sultana and Loftus encourage us when discussing water activism in their edited volume on the human right to water, “we have an obligation to build on such struggles rather than simply using them for our own intellectual debates” (Sultana & Loftus, 2012b, p. 18).

Secondly, it’s interesting that perhaps the challenge that government officials say they face is the domestic implementation of the international norm of human right at the subnational scale . I believe this is a problem that is derived from a lack of understanding of the notion of human right to water as a global norm and as a conceptual framework (Gerlak and Wilder 2012; Gupta, Ahlers, and Ahmed 2011; Hall, Van Koppen, and Van Houweling 2014; Meier et al. 2014; Salman 2014; Schmidt 2012; Sultana and Loftus 2012a). On the regulatory challenge of implementation and building a new regulatory framework for the human right to water, I argue that while in 2007 we could say (and Karen Bakker in fact did) that the legal grounding for the human right to water was shaky, that’s not the case anymore (Bakker 2007). The international norm on the human right to water was effectively implemented in Mexico since February of 2012, just a couple of years after the UN agreement. The Mexican government enshrined the right to water access for all in its Constitution’s article 4 . As Gupta, Ahlers and Ahmed make the case, a human rights approach to designing and implementing human right to water legislation is appropriate, though tey recognize 3 types of bottlenecks (Gupta et al. 2011). In my view, the human right to water can be enforceable IF we have strong enough institutional and regulatory frameworks. As indicated by Olmos Giupponi, the HRW has elements of “justiciability” (Olmos Giupponi 2015). The mere notion of a human right should facilitate implementation and enforcement (both elements key to policy analysts and government officials). Nevertheless, we can’t just desire to implement the HRW as a policy directive but we also need to embed our thinking in a profound water ethic. That is, we need a place-specific, context specific strategy of water governance as posited by Schmidt and Peppard, where adaptive management takes place within a framework of a robust water ethic (Schmidt and Peppard 2014).

And thirdly, I still find it puzzling that much of the human right to water literature uses it as a frame of meaning and action is that it is separated from the human right to sanitation. I am often appalled by the treatment of sanitation in the global water governance discourse. For many, many scholars, activists and policy makers, the sanitation component of the water and sanitation Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) seems always relegated to being “the ugly duckling” in the equation. I find it puzzling that we are so concerned with the very idea of having a right to universal access to water while maintaining very little regard for the bodily functions that require most water (contrary to what many people may think, these are not food production!).

From a policy studies perspective, and to conclude, I would like to offer three concluding remarks.

First off, whereas previous conceptualizations of HRW focused on it as STRATEGY, I side with Mirosa and Harris (2012) in that we need to reconsider HRW as a framework for GOAL ATTAINMENT (Mirosa and Harris 2012). In public policy analysis, we focus and are much more interested in policy outcomes rather than strategic mobilizations. A proper implementation of the HRW will require us to use it as a framework that sets clear objectives for policy-makers and government officials rather than simply an emotionally-charged ideal goal.

Secondly, policy designs that aggressively push for public water supply should also engage with and bring along proposals to ensure global access to toilets, sewerage infrastructure and robust wastewater treatment (Pacheco-Vega 2015d). We can’t just focus on the human right to water, we need to ensure that we discuss the human right to sanitation. 2.4 billion people don’t have access to the dignity of a toilet, more than 950 million people defecate in the open. Think about it. We can’t have a human right to water that is disassociated from a human right to sanitation.

Thirdly, implementing the HRW will necessitate a focus on three simultaneous strategies: remunicipalization of private water service delivery, strengthening of local water utilities and regulation and control of the global bottled water industry across multiple scales. Not only will we need to ensure global access to publicly-supplied water, we will need to also make sure that private consortia are aware of the reasons why remunicipalization is occurring. Perhaps in finding the reasons why municipalities choose to de-privatize water utilities may lead to cooperative approaches to public service delivery (Furlong 2012) (what Furlong calls Alternative Delivery Models).

In closing, I would like to share one last thought that is specifically targeted to our student participants. As I have outlined in my talk, delivering the human right to water in a practical way is a tough challenge for governments and citizens alike, but if there is a reason I am a professor is because I strongly believe in the power of students to change the world. You can be that change. Every time you choose to consume water, remember that each bottle of water brings us one step closer to the global commodification of a human right. Don’t be part of that process. Thank you.


Bakker, Karen. 2007. “The ‘Commons’ Versus the ‘Commodity’: Anti-Privatization and the Human Right to Water in the Global South.” Antipode 39:430–55.

Furlong, Kathryn. 2012. “Good Water Governance without Good Urban Governance? Regulation, Service Delivery Models, and Local Government.” Environment and Planning A 44(11):2721–41. Retrieved January 26, 2014 (

Gerlak, Andrea K., and Margaret Wilder. 2012. “Exploring the Textured Landscape of Water Insecurity and the Human Right to Water.” Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development 54(2):4–17.

Gupta, Joyeeta, Rhodante Ahlers, and Lawal Ahmed. 2011. “The Human Right to Water : Moving Towards Consensus in a Fragmented World.” Review of European Community and International Environmental Law 19(3):294–306.

Hall, Ralph P., Barbara Van Koppen, and Emily Van Houweling. 2014. “The Human Right to Water: The Importance of Domestic and Productive Water Rights.” Science and Engineering Ethics 20(4):849–68. Retrieved (

Meier, Benjamin Mason et al. 2014. “Translating the Human Right to Water and Sanitation into Public Policy Reform.” Science and engineering ethics. Retrieved January 23, 2014 (

Mirosa, Oriol. 2012. “The Global Water Regime: Water’s Transformation from Right to Commodity in South Africa and Bolivia.” University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mirosa, Oriol, and Leila M. Harris. 2012. “Human Right to Water: Contemporary Challenges and Contours of a Global Debate.” Antipode 44(3):932–49.

Olmos Giupponi, Belén. 2015. “Transnational Environmental Law and Grass-Root Initiatives: The Case of the Latin American Water Tribunal.” Transnational Environmental Law 1–30. Retrieved (

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015a. “Agua Embotellada En México: De La Privatización Del Suministro a La Mercantilización de Los Recursos Hídricos.” Espiral: Estudios sobre Estado y Sociedad XXII(63):221–63.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015b. “Assessing ENGO Influence in North American Environmental Politics: The Double Grid Framework.” Pp. 373–89 in NAFTA and Sustainable Development The History, Experience, and Prospects for Reform, edited by Hoi Kong and Kinvin Wroth. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015c. “Transnational Environmental Activism in North America: Wielding Soft Power through Knowledge Sharing?” Review of Policy Research 32(1):146–62.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015d. “Urban Wastewater Governance in Latin America.” Pp. 102–8 in Water and Cities in Latin America: Challenges for Latin America, edited by Ismael Aguilar-Barajas, Jurgen Mahlknecht, Jonathan Kaledin, and Anton Earle. London, UK: Earthscan/Taylor and Francis.

Romano, Sarah T. 2012. “From Protest to Proposal: The Contentious Politics of the Nicaraguan Anti-Water Privatisation Social Movement.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 31(4):499–514. Retrieved (

Salman, Salman M. a. 2014. “The Human Right to Water and Sanitation: Is the Obligation Deliverable?” Water International 39(7):969–82. Retrieved (
Schmidt, Jeremy J. 2012. “Scarce or Insecure? The Right to Water and the Ethics of Global Water Governance.” Pp. 94–109 in The right to water: Politics, governance and social struggles, edited by Farhana Sultana and Alex Loftus. London, UK and New York, USA: Earthscan.

Schmidt, Jeremy J., and Christiana Z. Peppard. 2014. “Water Ethics on a Human-Dominated Planet: Rationality, Context and Values in Global Governance.” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water n/a – n/a. Retrieved September 17, 2014 (

Sultana, Farhana, and Alexander J. Loftus, eds. 2012a. The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles. London and New York: Earthscan.

Sultana, Farhana, and Alexander J. Loftus. 2012b. “The Right to Water: Prospects and Possibilities.” Pp. 1–18 in The right to water: Politics, governance and social struggles, edited by Farhana Sultana and Alexander J. Loftus. London and New York: Earthscan.

Posted in academia, policy analysis, research, water governance, water policy, water stress.

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Deep Ethnography, Transnational Social Movements and Vulnerable Populations (Talk at University of Connecticut)

I gave a talk today in the Latin American Studies Seminar Series at the University of Connecticut, hosted by and sponsored by UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights, El Instituto: Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies, the Department of History and the Department of Political Science. The audience (graduate students and fellow professors from a variety of departments) was very lively and I had really great feedback. Dr. Mark Healey was kind enough to host me and introduce me (with perhaps the best introduction I have ever had in my entire academic career!). Anyway, I promised I would post the slides to my talk, and here they are. I am also including the abstract for the talk.

Ethnographic inquiry (the study of social and political phenomena using qualitative methodologies, especially in-depth observation) has recently come under strong scrutiny given the ethical, methodological and substantive challenges in its recent implementation. Studying survival behavior of extremely vulnerable populations using ethnographic methods presents different issues to the examination of activist strategies of transnational social movements. In this talk, I share my experience studying transnational environmental non-governmental organizations’ mobilization strategies and compare it with my recent analyses of informal waste pickers’ strategic choices across a broad range of Latin American and European countries. In the talk, I address both the substantive issues of undertaking comparative public policy studies across different target populations, and the peculiarities of fieldwork in two very different environments. I draw some preliminary conclusions on what we can learn about ethnographic methodology and how we can address the ethical issues within deep ethnography.

Posted in academia, research methods.

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Upcoming talk: Deep Ethnography, Transnational Social Movements and Vulnerable Populations


On Monday October 19th, I will be at the University of Connecticut (Storrs campus) hosted by El Instituto/The Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American Studies, giving a talk titled “Deep Ethnography, Transnational Social Movements and Vulnerable Populations“. My talk will be from 2:30pm to 3:30pm, so if you are in the area, please feel free to come by! The abstract of the paper is below. The paper is still in very drafty form, but I plan to post at least my slides on my SpeakerDeck page.

Ethnographic inquiry (the study of social and political phenomena using qualitative methodologies, especially in-depth observation) has recently come under strong scrutiny given the ethical, methodological and substantive challenges in its recent implementation. Studying survival behavior of extremely vulnerable populations using ethnographic methods presents different issues to the examination of activist strategies of transnational social movements. In this talk, I share my experience studying transnational environmental non-governmental organizations’ mobilization strategies and compare it with my recent analyses of informal waste pickers’ strategic choices across a broad range of Latin American and European countries. In the talk, I address both the substantive issues of undertaking comparative public policy studies across different target populations, and the peculiarities of fieldwork in two very different environments. I draw some preliminary conclusions on what we can learn about ethnographic methodology and how we can address the ethical issues within deep ethnography.

If you’re interested in my work on transnational social movements, much of what I’ve published is available on my Publications page, on my Academia.Edu page and on my ResearchGate page.

Posted in academia, research, research methods.

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Upcoming talks: Right to Water Conference 2015 at University of Connecticut

tap waterWhile this has been in the works for quite a few months, I am thrilled that the time has come for me to visit the University of Connecticut, and nothing better than doing so within the context of a fantastic conference where I will be sharing the stage with, among several other outstanding academics, Dr. Christiana Peppard from Fordham University, a long-time Twitter friend and someone whose research I really respect. I am also delighted to be able to spend time with Dr. Mark Healey (one of the best environmental historians of his generation, and a specialist in Argentine water history) and Dr. Prakash Kashwan (also an excellent scholar of environmental policy with whom I actually share a heritage through the Ostrom Workshop, and whom I had a chance to see a couple of years ago at WOW5). I’ll also get the chance to see Dr. Veronica Herrera very briefly.

Dr. Herrera works in a very similar field to mine, wastewater and water politics in Mexico and Latin America, and it’s nice to actually be able to meet up in person.

The conference I will be speaking at is organized by the UNESCO Chair and the Institute of Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut, and will be keynoted by Dr. Peter Gleick (whom you probably have all read about, since he wrote one of the most authoritative books on bottled water). Here is a brief summary of the conference, right from the website:

Without water, life is impossible. Such a basic fact should imply that all human beings have, if they have any rights at all, a fundamental right to water. And yet, it was not until 2010 that the international community fully and explicitly recognized the right to water. That year, the UN General Assembly declared that “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights,” and called upon states and international organizations to work together to “provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.” In 2011, the WHO and UNICEF estimate that 786 million people use unsafe drinking water sources and 2.5 billion—36% of the world’s population—lack access to improved sanitation facilities. The human costs of these failures are staggering.

With these challenges in mind, the UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights will convene experts, activists, officials, and scholars from around the globe to examine the scope and nature of the global water crisis, to discuss the legal and institutional basis of the human rights to water and sanitation, and to consider some innovations and best practices that have been implemented or advocated around the world. As the world prepares to define the Post-2015 Development Agenda, this conference will provide a forum for students, faculty, and the community to explore the centrality of the right to water in our effort to build a more just and sustainable future.

In my own talk, I will be highlighting the challenges facing the human right to water and sanitation as we seek to implement them not only in Mexico, but also globally. I will also be discussing my research on water marketization and commodification and how bottled water threatens the proper implementation of a human right to water. I’m really grateful to the organizers of the conference and to Dr. Healey, Dr. Herrera and Dr. Kashwan for going out of their way to host me at UConn. I believe the conference will be live-streamed and will post a link on Twitter once I know whether it will be.

Posted in academia, research, wastewater, water governance, water policy.

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Color-coding your highlighting when reading articles and book chapters

One of the skills that needs to be in undergraduate and graduate students’ portfolios (and even post-PhD folks) is the ability to read, analyze, synthesize and then produce summaries of the research work we do. Highlighting is one of the ways in which I help myself learn the material I read, and I do it by hand rather than on the screen (many PDF-handling tools have highlighting features, but I prefer the actual physical thing). This week, I was trying to help my undergraduate students learn how to summarize journal articles and book chapters for their literature reviews and how to write reflective memos (most of my students are in 3rd and 4th year, so they are already in the process of writing the honors thesis/capstone paper). I figured I would post how I highlight (my own method) and perhaps some of them might find it useful for their own studying. I find it useful for my own research!

Trust me when I say that this is a topic that is often searched for on the internet (look at the results of this Google search!). But I find that most of this knowledge seems to be passed on by oral tradition (from professor to student “this is how I did my studying” or from parent, sibling or friend to child, sibling or friend). In fact, much of what I do now is a refined version of what my own PhD advisor, or professors, or even colleagues did, coupled with my own obsessive tendencies to organize everything.

Highlighting and writing by handWell, here’s a version of how I read, highlight and summarize my own thinking (give or take). First, I skim the article. I read the abstract, the introduction and the conclusion. I search for the main ideas that the author purports to present in the paper. Then, as I read the article, I bring 3-4 different types of highlighters: thick yellow for main ideas, then 3 slim ones: pink, blue and green. I use “erasable highlighters” so that I can erase when I have made a mistake. I use the thick yellow highlighter to note the most important ideas in a paragraph. Given that we’re taught to open paragraphs with a sentence that summarizes the main idea of the entire paragraph, often I highlight that one. But sometimes, as I note on this example, the key idea that I want to highlight in the paragraph or that I find valuable doesn’t align with the author’s idea of what the main concept is. Still, I go with what I feel is the most relevant one.

Highlighting and writing by handThen I often find that some neat and interesting ideas flow from the previous ones, but aren’t central. These are what I call “second level” or “third level” ideas. Most often, what I do is that I use green highlighter to find the “second level” ideas, and then pink for the “follow-up” or third-level ideas. I often use blue highlighters to underline interesting ideas that could be worth checking out, but that if I skip when I teach (or when I write an article), it won’t be damaging to the central argument. As you can see in the example on the left, there was a sentence written by the author that called for my attention, but that isn’t central to the main argument that the author is positing (I wrote “OH SNAP” because it is a complaint that in my view is petty and shouldn’t have a place in an academic journal article, but it’s relevant nonetheless).

Something else that many people have noticed when I highlight is that not only do I highlight, but I also use colored pens to write on the margins of the journal article. Mostly, these color codes are consistent with traditional views (e.g. red for VERY IMPORTANT STUFF, black for main ideas, blue for “interesting, though not fundamental”).

Highlighting and writing by hand

Something I’ve learned is that even though my own color-coding scheme will evolve, the main strategy of engaging with the material, reading and writing on the margins actually helps me with my own thinking. I’m definitely not the only academic who does this! (see below). Hopefully sharing my method will help my own students and someone else too!

Posted in academia, research, writing.

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Environmental NGOs and strategic naming and shaming – Murdie & Urpelainen 2015 and Pacheco-Vega 2015

One of the things I have always wanted to do has been to engage in a dialogue with the authors of research papers whose work is along the lines of mine. This format of writing online commentary on other scholars’ research isn’t new (I was just invited to write a commentary on a colleague of mine studying water in the US/Mexico border), but to me, what is new in the way I want to write this blog post is how my own research “dialogues” with other academics’ work. The recently published paper “Why Pick on Us? Environmental INGOs and State Shaming as a Strategic Substitute” by Amanda Murdie (University of Missouri) and Johannes Urpelainen (Columbia University) fits the bill perfectly, as it is pretty much what I was trying to get at in my recently published book chapter, “Assessing ENGO influence in North American environmental politics: The double grid framework”. In the chapter, I posit a visual framework that attempts to evaluate which countries would be more amenable to be pressured through non-state actor mobilizations, and what would the domestic conditions look like in order to enable this pressure to function properly.

This framework is not quantitative, but could definitely be implemented using quantitative tools. With this chapter, I was trying to establish a conceptual model of NGO influence that simultaneously took into account domestic conditions and transnational activity (e.g. “is the country’s political climate conducive to being influenced by a transnational network of NGO activists?” and “is the NGO coalition highly skilled in lobbying?”). With the double-grid framework, I capture elements of political climate, networking capabilities, relationships with transnational organizations and lobbying strength (something I have lately come to call as the international-domestic nexus).

As I commented on Twitter, Murdie and Urpelainen basically wrote the paper I wanted to write, but never had the dataset to do. In their article, Amanda and Johannes analyze how and why do international non-governmental organizations strategically choose the target of their naming-and-shaming practices. It’s an important contribution not only because it focuses on an under-studied area, but also because they test their theoretical approach (country target as strategic choice) with a large-ish N. Knowing how non-state actors choose which countries to target helps understand what strategic choices these NGOs make and the factors that they take into account in making those choices.

Naming-and-shaming is a strategy that non-state actors use to put pressure on domestic governments through information dissemination. Because there is no overarching framework nor agency that could force countries to comply with (or enforce) specific regulations, soft-law approaches to domestic regulatory compliance such as non-state actor interventions are quite innovative. However, we don’t really know much about how do NGOs choose countries and why do they engage in specific strategic choices. What we do often tends to be quite context- and case-study specific. Thus the need for larger-N analyses, beyond the (still needed) case studies.

One of the things I liked the most about the Murdie & Urpelainen article is that, as they state, “[t]he environment is a particularly interesting area of study because there are virtually no statistical analyses of the naming and shaming activities of INGOs” (p. 354) Most of what I have read in this field is qualitative and case-study based. Even my own work (Pacheco-Vega 2015b) studying how North American environmental NGOs use first-order and second-order pressure transmission mechanisms to force Canada, the US and Mexico to comply with their domestic regulations is case-study based. In my published work, I have analyzed two cases, the Citizen Submission on Enforcement Matters mechanism and the North American Pollutant Release Inventory project (although I’ve also studied other initiatives within the North American context).

My research finds that Canadian, US and Mexican ENGOs often use intergovernmental institutions (e.g. the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America, the CEC) to put pressure on domestic governments (much along the lines of Keck and Sikkink’s work, the well-known boomerang model). The North American environmental policy case is an interesting one because the CEC Secretariat is overseen by the Council (aka the governments of all three countries, Canada, the US and Mexico) and thus has a complex relationship both with states and non-state actors.

Murdie and Urpelainen advance how we understand the ways in which, and reasons why in NGOs make strategic choices on which countries to name-and-shame. Their research also advances (even if collaterally) the double-grid framework I posited in Pacheco-Vega 2015a where I argue that environmental NGOs will target countries that have high-amenability to international pressure (using second-order pressure transmission mechanisms as I suggest in Pacheco-Vega 2005) and where the domestic political environment is also amenable to external pressures (both first-order or direct, and second-order or indirect).

While Murdie and Urpelainen 2015 doesn’t assess NGO effectiveness or degree of influence (something I do in my own work, and that can usually be better assessed using case-study, ethnographic and qualitative, small N strategies), their research does help us understand naming-and-shaming as a strategic choice and start developing more generalized (and generalizable) theories that evaluate effectiveness of non-state actor influence on domestic and international arenas. The design elements that Murdie and Urpelainen posit in their article shall not be overlooked either. Knowing why INGOs choose specific target countries can also shed light on what the best approach to tackle problems of global environmental governance. As Murdie and Urpelainen state in their conclusion (p. 368):

The empirical results show that environmental INGOs act as strategic substitutes for domestic activism in countries that lack political institutions (1) allowing environmentalists to hold their government accountable and (2) needed for good environmental governance. These findings shed light on how INGOs, considering domestic political conditions in different states, select their targets for naming and shaming. Instead of attacking easy or salient targets, in the environmental issue area their choice of targets is driven by the need to fill political gaps in global environmental governance.

I really enjoyed reading Amanda and Johannes’ paper and I think their contribution will help strengthen a growing research programme on NGO influence in the global arena.


Murdie, Amanda, and Johannes Urpelainen. 2015. “Why Pick on Us? Environmental INGOs and State Shaming as a Strategic Substitute.” Political Studies 63: 353–72.

Keck, Margaret, and Kathryn Sikkink. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders. Ithaca, NY, USA: Cornell University Press.

Keck, Margaret E, and Kathryn Sikkink. 1999. “Transnational Advocacy Networks in International and Regional Politics.” International Social Science Journal 51(159): 89–101.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2005. “Democracy by Proxy: Environmental NGOs and Policy Change in Mexico.” In Environmental Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, eds. Aldemaro Romero and Sarah West. Dordrecht: Springer Verlag, 231–49.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015a. “Assessing ENGO Influence in North American Environmental Politics: The Double Grid Framework.” In NAFTA and Sustainable Development The History, Experience, and Prospects for Reform, eds. Hoi Kong and Kinvin Wroth. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 373–389.

Pacheco-Vega, Raul. 2015b. “Transnational Environmental Activism in North America: Wielding Soft Power through Knowledge Sharing?” Review of Policy Research 32(1): 146–62.

Posted in academia, social movements.

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Organizing PDFs of journal articles, book and book chapters

As any regular reader of my research blog knows, I’m obsessive (and compulsive) when it comes to organizing. Organization is what makes my brain work properly. I schedule my life in very rigid ways, allocate and protect my time to research, teaching, service, meetings, following up with students’ work, office hours and also self-care time. I use old-fashioned methods to organize my research library, starting with my journal articles and book chapters and all printed material, and following with my books (which I organize by topic, as it can be shown in the photo below). Being organized is what helps me work properly given that I’m easily distracted and have too many research interests.

Raul Pacheco-Vega's personal library at CIDE

Raul Pacheco-Vega's personal library at CIDE

I am now sharing my process for how I organize my research library PDFs on request from followers on Twitter.

I hate having stuff out of order and feeling disorganized. It makes me feel discombobulated and unable to work properly, so yesterday I spent an hour sorting through PDFs that were already in my Mendeley library and that were in the root folder of my Dropbox. This happens (keeping PDFs in the root folder of my Dropbox) usually because I am downloading articles too fast and I don’t put enough attention into organizing them properly. But I had accumulated 574 and this week I decided I had had enough. Also, I work in three computers (1 desktop and 1 laptop at my CIDE campus office, and the laptop I use when I travel for research and fieldwork), so I need to have synchronized Mendeley libraries across all computers.

Organizing PDFsThis week, I decided I was done with this disorganization and thus started creating folders (similar to the ones I have in my Dropbox) with the titles of the general research area that I’ve been working on (Research Methods, Human Right to Water, Informal Waste Picking, etc.) As you can see, this structure is pretty simple and allows me to quickly access PDFs. I refined how I name PDFs with a tip from my coauthor Kate O’Neill (University of California Berkeley): I now file each PDF with the last name of the author(s), the year, and the full title (or a very descriptive title) (see below). Quickly glancing at the title of the PDF as I was sorting through the 574 files allowed me to decide and choose which folder I was going to move it to. I moved it to the new folder I had created in My Documents.

What I do then is merge the new library I have created in My Documents with my Dropbox library (whose structure you can see below). It is quite likely that I will already have a folder in Dropbox with the same name of research topic as my current one, so the merging makes it quite easy. If there’s duplication I just manually merge both libraries.

Organizing PDFs

You can see how I name the PDFs of each article. It’s quite likely that I will miss a few, but I often come back and rename the file. Doing this is particularly important because if you’re sharing your Mendeley or Dropbox library with someone, you want them to know easily which PDF to access. This is my Human Right to Water folder.

Organizing PDFs

I do the same with my Mendeley library: I organize by topic, and by paper I’m writing (see below).

Organizing PDFs

Doing all this organizing is painstakingly time-consuming, but the ease of access I gain from being organized ONCE saves me hours, and hours of time of trying to find the right file. Particularly since I’m attached to the Microsoft platform and the searching capabilities that you had in Windows 7 are no longer available in Windows 8.1 (heck, not even in Windows 10!). Thus I better keep it organized BEFORE I have a writing crisis (which I’ve already had a few).

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