Special Issue "Contested Knowledges: Water Conflicts on Large Dams and Mega- Hydraulic Development"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441). This special issue belongs to the section "Hydraulics".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (28 July 2018).

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Esha Shah
Website
Guest Editor
Water Resources Management GroupDept. Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: history and anthropology of science and technology; debates on modernity and development in India; history and genealogy of development co-operation; genetically modified crop biotechnology; role of subjectivity in shaping objectivity
Prof. Dr. Rutgerd Boelens
Website
Guest Editor
Water Resources Management Group, Dept. Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: political ecology; water rights and justice; integrated water management; legal pluralism; cultural politics, governmentality, and social mobilization; Latin America; Spain
Ir. Bert Bruins
Website
Guest Editor
Water Resources Management GroupDept. Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
Interests: land and water management; hydropower; Asia; development cooperation; capacity building; institutional development; organizational strengthening; reflective and reflexive professionalism

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Water acquisition, storage, allocation, and distribution are intensely contested in our society, whether, for instance, it pertains to a conflict between upstream and downstream farmers located on a small stream, or to a large dam located on the border of two nations. Water conflicts are mostly studied as disputes around the access to water resources, or the formulation of water laws and governance rules. However, explicitly or not, water conflicts nearly always also involve disputes among different regimes of knowledge. In the history of debates on water governance, such conflicts and the attendant contestation on knowledge have most conventionally played out between water user groups and engineers or bureaucrats, for example, about a design of a canal, its location, or allocation and distribution schedules. In the current times, however, these conflicts around knowledges increasingly involve complex situations and trans-boundary actors, for example, multinational donor agencies, civil society movements, indigenous groups, environmental NGOs, and different (natural as well as social) science groups. These contested knowledges around water and water development inadvertently involve a dynamics between scientific approaches, technological choices, ecological contexts and socio-political negotiations.

In this Special Issue we invite submissions on the politics of contested knowledges as they become manifest in the conceptualization, design, development, implementation and governance of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects. In complex mega-hydraulic structure development it increasingly becomes clear that water knowledge is not ‘neutral’ or ‘independent’ but culturally and politically laden. We witness situations where multiple knowledges and realities are constructed using different grounds for claiming the truth about water design, development and implementation. We are especially interested in addressing the following questions. Firstly, we want to understand which (dominant and non-dominant) knowledges are encountered in mega-hydraulic development, and how these different water knowledges are shaped and validated. Next is the question about legitimacy and authority of water knowledge in concrete contexts, about whose knowledge counts and whose knowledge is side-lined in particular conflict situations. Further, in the domain of large dam and water infrastructure development and contestation, how are “epistemic communities” around knowledge claims formed? Additionally, how do race, class, caste, ethnicity, and gender but also professional identity interplay and influence the formation of epistemic communities around dams and mega-hydraulics? Importantly, we also want to address the historical processes of the formation of both dominant and contested knowledges. How do various regimes/paradigms of water knowledge emerge and how they relate to each other? Lastly, we want to engage with the way contested knowledges relate to and shape norms, rules, beliefs, values about water problems and solutions; in other words, how are societal values (for instance, notions of justice, citizenship, progress, and democracy) deployed and co-produced in the contested epistemologies on large dams and hydraulic infrastructural development projects?

Dr. Esha Shah
Ir. Bert Bruins
Prof. Rutgerd Boelens
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Large dams
  • mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects
  • water conflicts
  • contested knowledges
  • epistemic communities
  • co-production of knowledge and democracy

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Open AccessEditorial
Contested Knowledges: Large Dams and Mega-Hydraulic Development
Water 2019, 11(3), 416; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030416 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 17
Abstract
Locally and globally, mega-hydraulic projects have become deeply controversial. Recently, despite widespread critique, they have regained a new impetus worldwide. The development and operation of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects are manifestations of contested knowledge regimes. In this special issue we present, [...] Read more.
Locally and globally, mega-hydraulic projects have become deeply controversial. Recently, despite widespread critique, they have regained a new impetus worldwide. The development and operation of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects are manifestations of contested knowledge regimes. In this special issue we present, analyze and critically engage with situations where multiple knowledge regimes interact and conflict with each other, and where different grounds for claiming the truth are used to construct hydrosocial realities. In this introductory paper, we outline the conceptual groundwork. We discuss ‘the dark legend of UnGovernance’ as an epistemological mainstay underlying the mega-hydraulic knowledge regimes, involving a deep, often subconscious, neglect of the multiplicity of hydrosocial territories and water cultures. Accordingly, modernist epistemic regimes tend to subjugate other knowledge systems and dichotomize ‘civilized Self’ versus ‘backward Other’; they depend upon depersonalized planning models that manufacture ignorance. Romanticizing and reifying the ‘othered’ hydrosocial territories and vernacular/indigenous knowledge, however, may pose a serious danger to dam-affected communities. Instead, we show how multiple forms of power challenge mega-hydraulic rationality thereby repoliticizing large dam regimes. This happens often through complex, multi-actor, multi-scalar coalitions that make that knowledge is co-created in informal arenas and battlefields. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Negotiating Water and Technology—Competing Expectations and Confronting Knowledges in the Case of the Coca Codo Sinclair in Ecuador
Water 2019, 11(3), 411; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030411 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
Recent and on-going mega-hydraulic development in the global South implies profound socio-technical, ecological, territorial and cultural transformations at different levels and spaces of society. The transformations often involve conflicts and also new governance arrangements between different knowledge regimes, local practices and national and [...] Read more.
Recent and on-going mega-hydraulic development in the global South implies profound socio-technical, ecological, territorial and cultural transformations at different levels and spaces of society. The transformations often involve conflicts and also new governance arrangements between different knowledge regimes, local practices and national and global frameworks of climate mitigation, water resources management and the green economy. Significantly, they also entail varying expectations concerning the meaning of water and the political promises of technology in advancing more sustainable futures. Drawing on sociological science and technology studies, particularly the sociology of expectations, this article analyses competing, parallel and confronting expectations regarding water and technology that different actors produce, negotiate and contest in the context of the recently launched 1500 MW hydropower megaproject Coca Codo Sinclair in Ecuador. It takes expectations as performative as they may shape and challenge policies, discourses, social interactions, institutions and power relations. By analysing and comparing these expectations, the article scrutinises the socio-technical imaginaries and related knowledge regimes they represent, derive from and support, and what kinds of repercussions these have in terms of water resources management in particular and sustainability governance in general. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Dams and Damages. Conflicting Epistemological Frameworks and Interests Concerning “Compensation” for the Misicuni Project’s Socio-Environmental Impacts in Cochabamba, Bolivia
Water 2019, 11(3), 408; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030408 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
The Misicuni multipurpose hydraulic project was designed to transfer water from a neighboring watershed to the Cochabamba Valley in the center of Bolivia for domestic, hydropower, and agricultural use. The project involved the construction of a 120 m high large dam and a [...] Read more.
The Misicuni multipurpose hydraulic project was designed to transfer water from a neighboring watershed to the Cochabamba Valley in the center of Bolivia for domestic, hydropower, and agricultural use. The project involved the construction of a 120 m high large dam and a 19 km transfer tunnel, which negatively affected the rural indigenous host communities that were deprived of productive lands, houses, and livelihoods. This article critically analyzes the process to compensate for harmful effects, demonstrating the existence of divergent knowledge systems, interpretations, and valuing of what was affected and how the impacts had to be compensated. The analysis shows that the compensation was fundamentally a process of negotiation about the meaning and the contested commensuration that was implemented in a context of unequal power relations between state institutions and the indigenous population. This led to unfavorable arrangements for the affected communities. The article details the discussions about impacts, knowledge, and values of key elements of the compensation process and highlights how “compensation” was embedded in the wider struggle over territorial control and natural resource governance. The unreliability of the state institutions worsened the negative impacts for the rural communities because the negotiated outcomes were not always materialized. Full article
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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle
The Fantasy of the Grand Inga Hydroelectric Project on the River Congo
Water 2019, 11(3), 407; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030407 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 3
Abstract
The Congo River is the deepest in the world and second-longest in Africa. Harnessing its full hydropower potential has been an ongoing development dream of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its more powerful regional allies. If completed, the Grand Inga complex [...] Read more.
The Congo River is the deepest in the world and second-longest in Africa. Harnessing its full hydropower potential has been an ongoing development dream of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its more powerful regional allies. If completed, the Grand Inga complex near Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC, will be the largest dam project in the world. Its eight separate dams (Inga 1–8) are envisioned to be “lighting up and powering Africa”. Opponents claim, however, that the rewards will be outsourced to corporate mining interests rather than meeting the needs of the local population, and that the project is flawed economically, socially and environmentally. The planned construction of the Inga dams and associated infrastructure has been stuck in limbo since it was mooted in the 1960s; a fantasy rather than a reality. This article attempts to analyse the rivalry underlying the Grand Inga scheme beyond the “pro” and “contra” reports. Embracing Lacanian psychoanalysis and triangulating multiple sources, we seek to unmask Grand Inga as a potent fantasy. Whilst exhibiting its purpose to serve as a screen to protect both proponents of and opponents to the dam from encountering their own self-deception, we conclude the scheme to be at its most powerful whilst the dream remains unfulfilled. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Contested Knowledges in Hydroelectric Project Assessment: The Case of Canada’s Site C Project
Water 2019, 11(3), 406; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030406 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
This paper analyzes contestation over aspects of the Site C Project on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. The $10.7 billion project, which is now under construction, has been vigorously debated for over 30 years. Initially proposed in the 1980s, project [...] Read more.
This paper analyzes contestation over aspects of the Site C Project on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, Canada. The $10.7 billion project, which is now under construction, has been vigorously debated for over 30 years. Initially proposed in the 1980s, project approval was not granted following review by the BC Utilities Commission, as the need for the project was not established. In 2010, the provincial government enacted legislation to exempt the project from future review by the BC Utilities Commission; an environmental assessment was initiated in 2012 and a constrained review by the Commission was undertaken in 2017, after construction had commenced. The paper explores key examples of contested knowledge regimes within the review process, focusing on debates over cumulative effects and greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis provides technical examples of the ways in which differing societal values are deployed and co-produced within regulatory processes. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Political Borders, Epistemological Boundaries, and Contested Knowledges: Constructing Dams and Narratives in the Mekong River Basin
Water 2019, 11(3), 413; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030413 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 9
Abstract
The Mekong River Basin of mainland Southeast Asia is confronting a series of intertwined social, political, and biophysical crises. The ongoing construction of major hydroelectric dams on the river’s main channel and tributary systems—particularly in the basin’s lower and more populated reaches—is leading [...] Read more.
The Mekong River Basin of mainland Southeast Asia is confronting a series of intertwined social, political, and biophysical crises. The ongoing construction of major hydroelectric dams on the river’s main channel and tributary systems—particularly in the basin’s lower and more populated reaches—is leading to significant socioecological changes. Multiple scientific studies have suggested that proceeding with the planned dam construction will disrupt the region’s incredibly productive fisheries and threaten the livelihoods of millions of basin residents. These effects will almost certainly be exacerbated by global and regional climate change. Yet increased understanding of the adverse consequences of dams for the Mekong’s hydrological and ecological processes is having minimal impact on decision-making around hydropower development. While local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and certain scientists draw on this knowledge to oppose or question accelerated dam building, state officials and hydropower developers have turned to the expertise of engineering and technological assessments in order to justify dam construction. Drawing on work in political geography, political ecology, and science and technology studies (STS), we ask two primary questions. First, why does engineering/technological knowledge retain so much legitimacy and authority in the face of mounting scientific knowledge about ecological change? Secondly, how are narratives of progress deployed and co-produced in the contested epistemologies of large dams as development? We conclude with some examples of how contestations over dams seem to be shifting epistemological boundaries in meaningful ways, creating new spaces for knowledge production and transfer. To answer these questions, we focus on three contested dams that are at various stages of construction in the basin: the nearly complete Xayaburi Dam, the under-construction Don Sahong Dam, and the planned Pak Beng Dam. The research advances understandings of the politics of contested knowledges as they become manifest in the conceptualization and governance of large dams in transboundary basins. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Hydropower in the Himalayan Hazardscape: Strategic Ignorance and the Production of Unequal Risk
Water 2019, 11(3), 414; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030414 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 10
Abstract
Rapidly expanding hydropower development in areas prone to geological and hydro-climatic hazards poses multiple environmental and technological risks. Yet, so far these have received scant attention in hydropower planning processes, and even in the campaigns of most citizen initiatives contesting these dams. Based [...] Read more.
Rapidly expanding hydropower development in areas prone to geological and hydro-climatic hazards poses multiple environmental and technological risks. Yet, so far these have received scant attention in hydropower planning processes, and even in the campaigns of most citizen initiatives contesting these dams. Based on qualitative empirical research in Northeast India, this paper explores the reasons why dam safety and hazard potential are often marginal topics in hydropower governance and its contestation. Using a political ecology framework analyzing the production of unequal risks, I argue that a blind-eye to environmental risks facilitates the appropriation of economic benefits by powerful interest groups, while increasing the hazardousness of hydropower infrastructure, accelerating processes of social marginalization. More specifically, this paper brings into analytical focus the role of strategic ignorance and manufactured uncertainty in the production of risk, and explores the challenges and opportunities such knowledge politics create for public resistance against hazardous technologies. I posit that influencing the production of knowledge about risk can create a fertile terrain for contesting hazardous hydropower projects, and for promoting alternative popular conceptions of risk. These findings contribute to an emerging body of research about the implications of hydropower expansionism in the Himalayan hazardscape. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Contesting Hydropower Dams in the Eastern Himalaya: The Cultural Politics of Identity, Territory and Self-Governance Institutions in Sikkim, India
Water 2019, 11(3), 412; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030412 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 4
Abstract
In India’s Eastern Himalayan State of Sikkim, the indigenous Bhutia communities, Lachungpas and Lachenpas, successfully contested all proposed hydropower projects and have managed to sustain an anti-dam opposition in their home regions, Lachung and Lachen. In this paper, we discuss this remarkable, un-researched, [...] Read more.
In India’s Eastern Himalayan State of Sikkim, the indigenous Bhutia communities, Lachungpas and Lachenpas, successfully contested all proposed hydropower projects and have managed to sustain an anti-dam opposition in their home regions, Lachung and Lachen. In this paper, we discuss this remarkable, un-researched, effective collective action against hydropower development, examining how identity and territory influence collective action through production, creation and application of vernacular knowledge systems. The role of the Dzumsa, a prevailing traditional system of self-governance among the Lachungpas and Lachenpas, has been central in their collective resistance against large dams in Lachung and Lachen. Our findings show that contrary to popular imageries, the Dzumsa is neither an egalitarian nor a democratic institution—rather, it is an exercise of an “agonistic unity”. The Dzumsas operate as complex collectives, which serve to politicize identity, decision-making and place-based territoriality in their struggle against internal and external threats. Principles of a “vernacular statecraft” helped bringing the local communities together in imperfect unions to oppose modernist designs of hydropower development. However, while such vernacular institutions were able to construct a powerful local adversary to neoliberal agendas, they also pose high social, political and emotional risks to the few within the community, who chose not to align with the normative principles of the collective. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
Mobilizing Water Actors and Bodies of Knowledge. The Multi-Scalar Movement against the Río Grande Dam in Málaga, Spain
Water 2019, 11(3), 410; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030410 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 7
Abstract
Just as in other parts of Spain, the Guadalhorce Valley, Málaga, has a long history of policies based on ‘hydraulic utopianism’ (regenerationist and Franco-ist), bent on ‘reorganizing’ political, geographic, and human nature. Residents of the neighboring sub-basin, the Río Grande valley, have seen [...] Read more.
Just as in other parts of Spain, the Guadalhorce Valley, Málaga, has a long history of policies based on ‘hydraulic utopianism’ (regenerationist and Franco-ist), bent on ‘reorganizing’ political, geographic, and human nature. Residents of the neighboring sub-basin, the Río Grande valley, have seen how these policies, designed to transfer rural water to modern urban centers, have turned the Guadalhorce hydrosocial territory into a ‘hydraulic dystopia’. In this article, we examine how Río Grande valley residents mobilized to maintain control over the development and use of their resources, livelihoods, and knowledge systems, when modernist-urbanist policies planned to take their water from a major dam on the Río Grande. Interviewing actors at different scales we examined how this anti-dam movement organized massively in a creative, multi-actor, and multi-scale network. Our results also show that this unified, successful fight against the ‘common enemy’, the mega-hydraulic construction, has become more complex, as threats crop up not only from the ‘city over there’ but also from ‘internal’ hydro-territorial transformations. These sprout from policies to modernize traditional irrigation systems, supposedly to ‘save water’, but critical voices assume that it is all about passing on the ‘surplus’ to Málaga city, or using that water to expand agribusiness. We conclude that the challenge lies in critically integrating multiple forms of knowledge, stakeholders, and scales to both defend collective water management and creatively construct anti-hegemonic alternatives. Full article
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Open AccessArticle
What Hirschman’s Hiding Hand Hid in San Lorenzo and Chixoy
Water 2019, 11(3), 415; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030415 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 6
Abstract
Implementation of big water projects requires that their funders, contractors, and government officials will move projects forward ignorant of their potential social and environmental costs. Economist Albert O. Hirschman raised the issue of ignorance in a widely-read analysis of the factors driving the [...] Read more.
Implementation of big water projects requires that their funders, contractors, and government officials will move projects forward ignorant of their potential social and environmental costs. Economist Albert O. Hirschman raised the issue of ignorance in a widely-read analysis of the factors driving the project process in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and southern Europe. This ignorance, which Hirschman referred to as ‘the hiding hand,’ led to creativity in the case of the San Lorenzo irrigation system in northern Peru, but had lethal consequences in the case of Guatemala’s Chixoy dam project. While Hirschman saw what he called ‘the hiding hand’ as accidental, examination of documents related to large hydraulic infrastructure projects in Peru and Guatemala suggests that in the late twentieth century it was systematically produced by resistance on the part of international financial institutions to addressing the broader political context for project development, or to adequately addressing potential social and environmental impacts early in the project process. Full article
Open AccessArticle
Hydraulic Order and the Politics of the Governed: The Baba Dam in Coastal Ecuador
Water 2019, 11(3), 409; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030409 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 5
Abstract
Mega-dams are commonly designed, constructed, and implemented under governors’ rule and technocrats’ knowledge. Such hydraulic infrastructures are characteristically presented as if based on monolithic technical consensus and unidirectional engineering. However, those who are affected by these water interventions, and eventually governed by the [...] Read more.
Mega-dams are commonly designed, constructed, and implemented under governors’ rule and technocrats’ knowledge. Such hydraulic infrastructures are characteristically presented as if based on monolithic technical consensus and unidirectional engineering. However, those who are affected by these water interventions, and eventually governed by the changes brought by them, often dispute the forms of knowledge, norms, morals, and operation and use rules embedded in mega-hydraulic engineers’ designs. Protests may also deeply influence the design and development of the technological artifacts. By using approaches related to the Social Construction of Technology and Partha Chatterjee’s politics of the governed, this article shows (i) how protests against the Baba dam in coastal Ecuador greatly influenced the dam’s designs, protecting communities’ lands from being flooded; and (ii) how, at the same time, techno-political decision-makers deployed hydraulic design as a dividing rule, turning potentially affected communities against each other. We conclude that megadam designs are shaped by the power interplay among governors and governed, with the latter being internally differentiated. By critically analyzing the role of technology development—materializing changing ‘political context and relationships’—we show how contested and adapted dam design may favor some stakeholders while simultaneously affecting others and weakening united dam-resistance movements. Full article
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Open AccessEditorial
Reflections: Contested Epistemologies on Large Dams and Mega-Hydraulic Development
Water 2019, 11(3), 417; https://doi.org/10.3390/w11030417 - 26 Feb 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
The contributions to the Special Issue on Contested Knowledges: Water Conflicts on Large Dams and Mega-Hydraulic Development have looked at the politics of contested knowledge as manifested in the conceptualization, design, development, implementation and governance of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects in [...] Read more.
The contributions to the Special Issue on Contested Knowledges: Water Conflicts on Large Dams and Mega-Hydraulic Development have looked at the politics of contested knowledge as manifested in the conceptualization, design, development, implementation and governance of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects in various parts of the world [...] Full article
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