What Makes a Megaproject?

A Review of Global Hydropower Assemblages

in Environment and Society
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  • 1 Dartmouth College grant.m.gutierrez.gr@dartmouth.edu
  • 2 Dartmouth College; Universidad Católica de Chile sarah.kelly@cigiden.cl
  • 3 The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry jcousins@esf.edu
  • 4 Dartmouth College christopher.s.sneddon@dartmouth.edu
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Abstract

This article reviews how global hydropower assemblages catalyze socio-ecological change in the world's rivers. As a quintessential megaproject, massive dams and the hydropower they generate have long captivated the modernist development imaginary. Yet, despite growing recognition of the socio-ecological consequences of hydropower, it has recently assumed a central role in supporting renewable energy transitions. We highlight three trends in hydropower politics that characterize global hydropower assemblages: mega-dams as markers of nation-state development; river protection by territorial alliances and social movements opposed to hydropower; and transitions from spectacular, centralized hydropower installations to the propagation of small and large hydropower within climate mitigation schemes. We offer insights on how global hydropower assemblages force examination beyond traditional categories of “mega” through more holistic and grounded analyses of significance.

Contributor Notes

GRANT M. GUTIERREZ is a PhD Candidate in Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems and Society at Dartmouth College. His research examines the relationships between climate change and watershed conservation politics in Chile. Email: grant.m.gutierrez.gr@dartmouth.edu

SARAH KELLY is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. She is also a postdoctoral researcher associated with the Centro de Investigación para la Gestión Integrada del Riesgo de Desastres at the Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago Chile. Her research addresses the intersection of hydropower development, Indigenous rights recognition, knowledge politics, and collaborative research methodologies. Email: sarah.kelly@cigiden.cl

JOSHUA J. COUSINS is Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. His teaching and research focus on issues of resource governance, sustainable urban systems, the political ecologies of water and energy, and the social dimensions of science and engineering. Email: jcousins@esf.edu

CHRISTOPHER SNEDDON is Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. His research examines how conflicts over water emerge at multiple scales and are linked to human alteration of river systems. His book Concrete Revolution (2015) explores the global geopolitical forces that contributed to the rapid spread of hydropower dams across the face of the planet throughout the twentieth century. Email: christopher.s.sneddon@dartmouth.edu

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