Big Dams: Investigating their temporal and spatial politics in Africa, the Middle East and Asia
Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin, June 1st 2012
This workshop, to be held at Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin on June 1st 2012, seeks to explore the spatial and temporal dimensions of big dam projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East . Big dam building projects are often associated with the post-war high modernist moment, but they have never ceased to proliferate, particularly in the global South. Costs and benefits of these enormous projects are hotly contested. Hydro-electric dams have stood as symbols of human ingenuity, signs of progress, and imposing greeners of the desert (McCully 2001) and ‘temples’ of the modern nation-state, as Nehru put it for India. On the other hand, displaced populations, environmental activists, tax payers and creditors cast serious doubts on the justification and means of building large dams (Ghosh 2006; Roy 1998; Scudder 2005).
As highly loaded symbols of state power and as sites which incorporate specific practices of “governmentality”, dam building projects bring together actors, materialities and discourses from very different spatial scales: local activists and populations interact with national and regional governments, international organizations, or globally operating companies. They are also sites which focus representations of heterogeneous temporalities: notions such as progress, modernisation, development and securing future wellbeing are contrasted with the loss of ‘traditional’ ways of life, of ancient environmental balances, of cultural and archaeological traces of the past.
With a view to a subsequent publication, we invite papers on empirical case studies from various disciplinary backgrounds that address any of the following questions:
- Can we find typical patterns of cost-benefit analysis by different actors? Do these differ in any way from those relating to other large-scale modernisation projects, such as urban (re)building, highway construction, etc.?
- What are the spatial scales of social belonging invoked in the contestations of dam building projects, e.g. ‘small’ and marginal communities having to sacrifice for the ‘greater’ (national or regional) good?
- How are these discourses temporalized, how do they articulate ideas of ‘modernisation’, ‘progress’, ‘backwardness’ and ‘tradition’? How do the different social actors deal with processes of erasure and submerging sites of past experiences and memories in the name of the future? And how do governments, citizens and corporate investors deal with historical successes or mistakes associated with dams?
We invite abstracts of no more than 500 words by Friday 3rd February 2012, to be sent to the conference organizers at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com. Limited funding is available to help cover accommodation and travel expenses (please indicate where needed).
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