The FutureDAMS working paper series is now fully underway. The latest piece is by two researchers on the project, Dr Tom Lavers and Dr Barnaby Dye.

They present an overview of the literature on the politics of dams, which has been analysed from a range of disciplinary perspectives—including comparative politics, international relations, political economy and political ecology.

One of the papers key points is the importance of analysing strategic interests in political power or material wealth, alongside ideas and ideologies. Both sets of factors influence the justification, design and construction processes around dams.

Another key theme is the paper’s stress on multiple levels of political processes. Dams are affected by actors and relations at the international level, as well as the national and the local or sub-regional. Multiple types of actors shape dam decision making at each of these levels, from construction companies, financiers and governments to NGOs and affected people.

Figure 1. A hypothetical mapping of the key actors and processes shaping dam planning and construction


Much valuable work has been done on the international politics of dams and the micro-politics of displacement and resistance to dam construction. However a comparatively neglected area of study—particularly concerning the recent dam boom in developing countries—is to link these transnational and micro-political processes to national level decision-making.

The paper therefore argues that future research should focus on this national level. In particular, it sees literature gaps around understanding dams in the context of broader distributional politics; in questions of who gets what where and when. This calls for a greater understanding of dams in the context of the wider electricity sector.

Moreover, Tom and Barnaby find interesting gaps in understanding how bureaucratic and technical capacity is built in countries to carry out dams and whether this allows critical thinking around the infrastructure to occur.

This politics paper therefore sets a useful overview of what the key political issues relating to dams are, and where future research in this field could be particularly productive.


Photo by Raphaël Biscaldi on Unsplash

Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of FutureDAMS as a whole.

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