TA2 – Water and Megaprojects


Thematic Area 2 emerged out of conversations at the Second International Meeting of the WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, realized in Sao Paulo in 2010. The name of the Thematic Area, “Water and Megaprojects” signals our preoccupation with territorial-level changes in relationships between human populations and water. We consider such changes to be provoked by a wide range of activities, including dams, mines, fossil fuel exploitation, agricultural monocropping, tree farm plantations, as well as the expansion of built environments related to transportation, urban expansion and tourism. From multiple disciplinary perspectives, and through transdisciplinary collaboration, work conducted by the researchers in TA2 examines the ways that different kinds of “megaprojects” transform access to and use of water by different economic actors and communities. Our work also seeks to understand the conditions for social mobilization against megaprojects and in defense of water and communities. There are clear intersections between the work of TA2 and several of the other thematic areas, especially TA8 Water and Disasters, TA9 Water and Production, and TA10 Water and Violence.

Featured topics researched by TA2 members
  • Theories of socio-ecological change, related to identifying the relationships between political-economic power and megaprojects in the context of economic globalization and regional integration.
  • The socio-ecological impacts of megaprojects like open-pit mining and large dams, especially in terms of their effects on indigenous and other rural communities.
  • The scope and broader implications of expansion and intensification in the extractive industries across Latin America.
  • The role of public policy in relation to the intensification of extractivism, ecological modernization, and socio-environmental regulation of development processes and projects.
  • The conditions for civil society and community mobilization in response to territorial-level threats to water resources, as well as state strategies to contain, domesticate or criminalize such mobilizations.
  • The psycho-social processes of subject formation associated with individual and collective experiences of megaprojects and of mobilization against them.
  • The strategies pursued by social movements in defense of water, including transnational collaboration within anti-dam and anti-mining networks.
  • Discursive dimensions of political power in struggles over water resources, including the role of epistemic violence in marginalizing the perspectives of indigenous peoples and other non-expert voices.

Relation between these topics and the Network’s Objectives and Research priorities

AT2 is committed to WATERLAT-GOBACIT’s strategic objective of building an international network of researchers that promote a more sustainable and democratic approach to governing human society´s relationships with water resources. The Thematic Area’s research publications have presented critical analysis of emblematic megaprojects in various countries, drawing attention to abuses of economic and political power, as well as highlighting the efforts of social movements and communities to demand greater transparency, democracy and justice. Our research has touched social, cultural, economic and political dimensions. It is also important to note that we have actively pursued the network’s objective of stimulating transdisciplinary collaboration, and our work has included collaborations between Anthropologists, Geographers, Political Scientists, Sociologists and others. Finally, we have worked in a format that is not only transdisciplinary but also transsectoral, creating a space for civil society and community actors’ voices to be present in our activities. Many of the network’s specific research priorities are clearly evident in the featured topics described above. It is worth highlighting several of the research priorities that are particularly relevant to the Thematic Area:

  • The need to challenge and re-politicise the dominant discourses related to water government and management.
  • The relation between conflict and participatory governance in relation to water (e.g. the contradiction between empowerment and demobilization resulting from participatory processes).
  • Studying water conflicts. Themes of environmental justice (languages of valuation), power relations, causes of the conflicts.
  • The social and environmental consequences of the instruments of water “governance” (laws, administrative mechanisms, etc.)
  • The role of science, especially the water management sciences. How this knowledge is developed and applied (a critique of the pretension of neutrality)
  • The development of a political ecology of water that may transcend the disciplinary divides between nature and society.

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