The construction of a hydroelectric project transforms the watershed in which it is located, leading to a moment of contestation in which the scheme is challenged by opposition actors. This paper explores the interplay between pro- and anti-dam coalitions contesting the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil by discussing how each group inscribes the project with a particular resonance in policy. Drawing upon the work of Chantal Mouffe on agonism and Tania Murray Li on ‘rendering technical’, the subsequent discussion analyzes semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and primary documents to explore how the storylines advanced by pro- and anti-dam actors contest the political character of Belo Monte. It is argued that within these storylines, Belo Monte’s positioning within the ‘national interest’ represents a key site of the project’s depoliticization and repoliticization—which are understood as the respective denial and illumination of the project’s location within a wider terrain of political antagonism and conflict. Whilst pro-dam actors assert the apolitical character of the project by foregrounding it within depoliticized questions of economic benefits, anti-dam actors reground the project within a context of political corruption and the circumvention of dissent. With this paper providing evidence of how contests over dam construction are linked to the concealing and/or illumination of the project’s political content, it is argued that the repoliticization of a project by a resistance movement can have consequences far beyond the immediate site of construction.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited