Dams and Development
Transnational Struggles for Water and Power
Big dams built for irrigation, power, water supply, and other purposes were among the most potent symbols of economic development for much of the twentieth century. Of late they have become a lightning rod for challenges to this vision of development as something planned by elites with scant regard for environmental and social consequences—especially for the populations that are displaced as their homelands are flooded. In this book, Sanjeev Khagram traces changes in our ideas of what constitutes appropriate development through the shifting transnational dynamics of big dam construction.
Khagram tells the story of a growing, but contentious, world society that features novel and increasingly efficacious norms of appropriate behavior in such areas as human rights and environmental protection. The transnational coalitions and networks led by nongovernmental groups that espouse such norms may seem weak in comparison with states, corporations, and such international agencies as the World Bank. Yet they became progressively more effective at altering the policies and practices of these historically more powerful actors and organizations from the 1970s on.
Khagram develops these claims in a detailed ethnographic account of the transnational struggles around the Narmada River Valley Dam Projects in central India, a huge complex of thirty large and more than three thousand small dams. He offers further substantiation through a comparative historical analysis of the political economy of big dam projects in India, Brazil, South Africa, and China as well as by examining the changing behavior of international agencies and global companies. The author concludes with a discussion of the World Commission on Dams, an innovative attempt in the late 1990s to generate new norms among conflicting stakeholders.