Freedom to choose: Governmentality, power and agency in China’s dam resettlement

Authors: Sabrina Habich-Sobiegalla*, Freie Universität Berlin
Topics: China, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: Southwest China, Dams, Governmentality, Water, Livelihood impacts
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8210, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Scholars engaging the Foucauldian idea of governmentality to community participation argue that, rather than giving a voice to local communities, participatory development is a political tool to define and regulate personal conduct, obscure inequality and injustice as well as disempower certain social groups. In this paper we examine case study villages in Yunnan province to provide an understanding of how participatory methods have been applied throughout involuntary resettlement processes caused by hydropower development. Firstly, the study illustrates how scientific reasoning and participatory approaches have been introduced in Chinese resettlement regulations to normalize involuntary resettlement, reduce potential social risks and bring Chinese regulations in line with the international state-of-the-art of resettlement. Secondly, focusing on one aspect of community participation in dam resettlement in China, namely the right to choose between different types of resettlement, the study illustrates how participatory approaches shift responsibility for resettlement outcomes from the state to local communities, and how the latter are expected to make informed decisions about their futures as dam migrants without being provided with sufficient information needed to make such decisions. Lastly, the study highlights the ways in which migrant households make use of such new participatory approaches and how these techniques impact migrant lives after resettlement. Rather than empowering local communities, participatory techniques create divisions within migrant communities, by conferring a migrant identity to some community members while actively excluding others.

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