Constructing Sustainable Hydropower in the Amazon: An Assemblage Approach to ‘Green’ Governance and Resistance

Authors: Alexandra Sabo*, University of Florida
Topics: Latin America, Social Theory, Energy
Keywords: hydropower, environmental governance, assemblage, energy transitions
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In many countries that are expanding low-carbon energy generation there has been an increasing trend towards hydropower, especially in Latin America. These developments continue a long tradition of dependence on hydropower in the region; however, in contrast to the well and widely documented damaging dams of the past, contemporary large-scale hydropower has been discursively constructed as carbon-neutral and a contributor to sustainable development. Based on interviews and participant observation at community meetings, protests, and negotiations conducted from 2013 to 2019, this study examines the ‘green’ governance of hydropower in discourse and practice through the lens of assemblage theory, with particular attention to space and scale. It critically examines two large-scale hydropower projects on the Amazon River’s largest tributary where, in practice, the dams have been plagued by widespread socio-environmental impacts, but their image as sustainable – one of which won the title of “#1 in Sustainability” - remains intact. The findings demonstrate how sustainable hydropower is built on the active erasure of ‘dissensus’ across scales and over space and time – from the halls of government to the fisherman’s net – through tools such as environmental impact assessments, public hearings, participatory monitoring, and sustainability assessments. The study’s most novel contribution is the elucidation of the processes through which communities organized to counter this recognized erasure, often through the strategic and creative use of the very same tools. Finally, it provides a critical assessment of one of the dominant energies in current and potential low-carbon energy transitions.

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