© 2016 The Center for Political Ecology. Questions of dam safety and hazard potential most often do not take center-stage in contestations and articulations concerning large dams. Through a comparative study of two of Europe’s most emblematic dam disasters–Vajont (Italy) and Ribadelago (Spain)–and the ongoing conflict over the safety of the Lower Subansiri Hydroelectric Project in Northeast India, this article argues that the damage caused by dam disasters is often not unavoidable or unforeseen but instead allowed to happen. Our cases show that power relations, economic pressures and profit influence “risky” dam management decisions, often disregarding the vernacular knowledge of concerned communities and silencing critical voices that do not fit dominant narratives of modernization and progress. We posit that an essential requirement for re-politicizing the question of dam safety is to unpack the apolitical notion of “socially constructed disasters,” thinking instead about “capital-driven destructions.” By emphasizing resistance against dam projects and against dominant risk discourses across space and time, this article seeks to underline the legitimacy of past and ongoing struggles surrounding the construction of large dams.
- Political ecology
- environmental history
- large dams
- vernacular vs. scientific knowledge