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The Politics of Dam Resurgence: Exclusion and Inclusion of Socio-Ecological Impacts From Three Case Studies

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Following a decade that saw a near cessation in dam building across the world, and particularly in Africa, dams are back on the agenda with projects and funding widespread. This phenomenon is controversial because dams’ social and environmental costs, economic effectiveness and longevity issues have been well evidenced. Thus, understanding the reasons for this surprising trend is timely, representing ground-breaking research considering one of the latest trends in the political ecology of development in Africa.

The talk asserts that justifying rationales for dams, the decision-making and knowledge production involved in their implementation, are influenced by the high modernist development ideology that arguably reached its zenith in the 1950s-1970s. I argue that a bricolage of this ideology is present in the contemporary dam-building resurgence, meaning that many of high-modernisms underlying logics, such as being expert-centric, top-down and non-participatory, persist alongside reforms in having socio-environmental assessment and a degree of compensation. This ‘high modernist bricolage’ remains crucial in dam planning, often to detrimental effect on people and the environment. The resurgence in dams is thus significant. It demonstrates the winners and losers entailed by a dam surge and the key ideologies shaping international development trends

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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