Books: Dams and Development in South Asia

Sanjeev Khagram, Dams and Development. Transnational Struggles for Water and Power. New York, Cornell University Press, 2004

« Big dams built for irrigation, power, water supply, and other purposes were among the most potent symbols of economic development for much of the twentieth century. Of late they have become a lightning rod for challenges to this vision of development as something planned by elites with scant regard for environmental and social consequences—especially for the populations that are displaced as their homelands are flooded. In this book, Sanjeev Khagram traces changes in our ideas of what constitutes appropriate development through the shifting transnational dynamics of big dam construction. Khagram tells the story of a growing, but contentious, world society that features novel and increasingly efficacious norms of appropriate behavior in such areas as human rights and environmental protection. The transnational coalitions and networks led by nongovernmental groups that espouse such norms may seem weak in comparison with states, corporations, and such international agencies as the World Bank. Yet they became progressively more effective at altering the policies and practices of these historically more powerful actors and organizations from the 1970s on. Khagram develops these claims in a detailed ethnographic account of the transnational struggles around the Narmada River Valley Dam Projects in central India, a huge complex of thirty large and more than three thousand small dams. He offers further substantiation through a comparative historical analysis of the political economy of big dam projects in India, Brazil, South Africa, and China as well as by examining the changing behavior of international agencies and global companies. The author concludes with a discussion of the World Commission on Dams, an innovative attempt in the late 1990s to generate new norms among conflicting stakeholders. »


Daniel Klingensmith, One Valley and A Thousand: Dams, Nationalism and Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

« By the end of the twentieth century, more then 45,000 large dams were built world wide displacing millions of people, and dramatically altering both ecosystems and social systems centered on rivers. A majority of these dams were constructed after 1945. This book seeks to explain the enormous global investment in dams since 1945 and explores their connections to political ideologies. It shows the lack of concern and awareness of policymakers and electorates about the human tragedies. It also sheds light on the disappointing performace of many river valley projects. The author traces the history of the politics and the political culture that influenced economic and technical decisions in the creation of particular dams in India and the United States. In doing so, he contributes to a broader discussion on the politcal significance of dams worldwide, and of the connections between development and nationalism.’



Patrick McCully, Silenced Rivers: the Ecology and Politics of Large Dams. London: Zed Books, 2001

Entirely updated in light of the recent World Commission on Dams Report, and responding to it, this new edition of Patrick McCully’s now classic study shows why large dams have become such a controversial technology in both industrialized and developing countries. He explores the wide-ranging ecological impacts of large dams, the human consequences, the organization of the dam-building industry, and the role played by international banks and aid agencies in promoting it. He also looks as the extensive technical, safety, and economic problems associated with large dams. New in this edition, the author tells the story of the rapid growth of the international anti-dam movement, and suggests alternative methods of supplying the services supposedly provided by large dams.


Satyajit Singh, Taming the Waters: The Political Economy of Large Dams in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997

‘This study of India’s large dams is set in the dual context of state politics and social classes. It argues that efforts to spend public resources on these dams are not only uneconomical and non-sustainable, but have been monopolized by a privileged few. In confronting issues of water control, the book also examines larger environmental concerns. »




See Also:

Joel Cabalion, “For a sociology of dam-induced displacements: state-managed dispossession and social movements of resettlement in a region of Central rural India (Maharashtra)”, Symposium on Social movements and/in the postcolonial: dispossession development and resistance in the global south, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, England, 24th June 2008. Available online.

Rohan D’Souza, Drowned and Damned: Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006

J.Dreze, M. Samson & S. Singh (eds), The Dam and the Nation: Displacement and Resettlement in the Narmada Valley. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997

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