Collectively Imagined Futures and the Conflict over Brazil's Belo Monte Dam

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Peter KLEIN, Bard College, USA
Brazil’s Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which is projected to be the world’s third largest dam when completed in 2019, has been the subject of local and international debate for more than three decades. Dam proponents have long argued that Belo Monte will offer clean energy while also bringing development to the region. Opponents counter that the project will lead to a host of irreparable negative outcomes. The conflict has intensified since 2011, when dam construction began and the region’s social and environmental landscape started to change.

This paper draws on an ethnographic study carried out in Altamira, the city most affected by Belo Monte, during the first two years of construction, to show that the conflicts over dam construction are largely based on collectively negotiated, yet disparate visions of the future. I introduce the concept of “collectively imagined futures” to highlight that these visions evolve and are negotiated within and between groups. This paper focuses on housing related issues to investigate how and why groups change their visions of the future and how this impacts relations between groups as they make claims. I show that the process of collectively imagining the future can expand alliances in surprising ways but also constrain partnerships and constrict opportunities for engagement.

I argue that we can gain both empirical and theoretical insights by using the lens of collectively imagined futures to look at how the debate over dams plays out at the local level. This lens calls attention to the fluid nature of group boundaries, and highlights how visions of the future are constantly being reshaped and renegotiated. This adds to the scholarship on struggles over dam construction by going beyond the polarized distinction between those who support such projects and those who oppose them.