Contested Knowledges: Large Dams and Mega-Hydraulic Development

R.A. Boelens, E. Shah*, B. Bruins

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademicpeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Locally and globally, mega-hydraulic projects have become deeply controversial. Recently, despite widespread critique, they have regained a new impetus worldwide. The development and operation of large dams and mega-hydraulic infrastructure projects are manifestations of contested knowledge regimes. In this special issue we present, analyze and critically engage with situations where multiple knowledge regimes interact and conflict with each other, and where different grounds for claiming the truth are used to construct hydrosocial realities. In this introductory paper, we outline the conceptual groundwork. We discuss ‘the dark legend of UnGovernance’ as an epistemological mainstay underlying the mega-hydraulic knowledge regimes, involving a deep, often subconscious, neglect of the multiplicity of hydrosocial territories and water cultures. Accordingly, modernist epistemic regimes tend to subjugate other knowledge systems and dichotomize ‘civilized Self’ versus ‘backward Other’; they depend upon depersonalized planning models that manufacture ignorance. Romanticizing and reifying the ‘othered’ hydrosocial territories and vernacular/indigenous knowledge, however, may pose a serious danger to dam-affected communities. Instead, we show how multiple forms of power challenge mega-hydraulic rationality thereby repoliticizing large dam regimes. This happens often through complex, multi-actor, multi-scalar coalitions that make that knowledge is co-created in informal arenas and battlefields
Original languageEnglish
Article number416
Number of pages27
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Co-creation
  • Dehumanizing rationality
  • Depoliticization
  • Knowledge arenas
  • Manufactured ignorance
  • Mega-hydraulic projects
  • Modernist traditions
  • Multi-actor multi-scalar alliances
  • Power
  • UnGovernance


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