Citizens of a Hydropower Nation: Territory and Agency at the Frontier of Hydropower Development in Nepal
This paper blends a theoretical framework for understanding social and spatial change in areas affected by hydropower development in Nepal with ethnographic accounts of diverse ‘lived experiences’ of hydropower development in the watersheds of the Trishuli and Tamakoshi rivers. Discussing hydropower development in terms of the turbulences and negotiations that mark its fluid boundaries this paper poses a series of open questions about shifting patterns of work, mobility, access, and aspiration which are emerging in ‘developing’ watersheds. This analysis focuses on the different ways in which livelihoods and socialities are implicated within the processes, practices, and logics of hydropower development – within complex flows of labor, capital, imagination and power that support the transformative projects of Nepal’s evolving ‘hydroscapes’ (from Swyngedouw 1999). As hydropower development intensifies and proliferates in Nepal it reaches across a wide variety of physical and human geographies, generating a frontier of interventions and ‘scale making projects’ (Tsing 2000) which produce a fractal pattern of turbulence. This paper attempts to describe ‘how hydropower is happening’ in the current moment, by focusing ethnographic attention on the ways in which this turbulent interface catalyzes, accelerates, attenuates, and elaborates processes of social and spatial change.
Drawing from three months of intensive fieldwork and interviews with people living and working in ‘project affected areas’ this paper works to disaggregate abstract definitions of ‘affectedness’ and ‘locality’ by describing plurality, unevenness, and uncertainty within the production of the hydro-future. My approach understands turbulence as a fluid kind of productive tension, which generates adaptations, new agencies, and unexpected opportunities for different projects of future-making (Tsing 2005, Ferguson 2011). This paper argues that ethnographies of turbulence can increase the visibility of certain patterns occurring at the periphery, pulling the eye and the conversation away from the centers of knowledge production in ways that pluralize the current discourse about the social and environmental effects of hydropower in Nepal. With an eye toward changing mobilities, this paper seeks to represent alternative narratives of hydropower development that foreground the ways people organize meaning within Nepal’s effort to become a ‘hydropower nation’ – to describe what is changing and for whom, who and what comes and goes, who benefits and who does not, how and why.