Water insecurity in developing country contexts has frequently led individuals and entire communities to shift their consumptive patterns towards bottled water. Bottled water is sometimes touted as a mechanism to enact the human right to water through distribution across drought-stricken or infrastructure-compromised communities. However, the global bottled water industry is a multi-billion dollar major business. How did we reach a point where the commodification of a human right became not only commonly accepted but even promoted? In this paper, I argue that a discussion of the politics of bottled water necessitates a re-theorization of what constitutes “the political” and how politics affects policy decisions regarding the governance of bottled water. In this article I examine bottled water as a political phenomenon that occurs not in a vacuum but in a poorly regulated context. I explore the role of weakened regulatory regimes and regulatory capture in the emergence, consolidation and, ultimately, supremacy of bottled water over network-distributed, delivered-by-a-public utility tap water. My argument uses a combined framework that interweaves notions of “the political”, ideas on regulatory capture, the concept of “the public”, branding, and regulation theory to retheorize how we conceptualize the politics of bottled water.
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