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date: 20 October 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter argues that there are important distinctions between large dam development in the twentieth century and the twenty-first century by conceptually framing dams not as mere objects in space but also as agents in dynamic and contested spatial strategies. This is illustrated by two examples: the Aswan High Dam on the Nile, and the Nam Theun 2 on the Mekong. Twentieth-century dams may be likened to Trojan Horses in that they were important embodiments of political and ideological spatial strategies, while large dams of the twenty-first century are more like Pandora’s Boxes due to a proliferation of private and quasi-private actors involved in their development. This complicates the assessment of the responsibilities for the costs, benefits, and risks of dam building, and makes transparent and democratic organization of dam governance even more difficult. The concept of “dam democracy” is proposed as an organizing principle for addressing these issues.

Keywords: dams, development, governance, spatial strategies, Aswan High Dam, Nam Theun 2

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