Renewable Energy

Rethinking hydropower in the Capitalocene: Commodification of rural life In Turkey

Hacer Gören

Koç University

Hydropower dams as engines of extraction

Sarah Milne and Sango Mahanty

Australian National University

Extracting Indian ‘green gold’: dispossession and domination, a war for space in the name of renewables?

David Singh

University of East Anglia/ Copenhagen University

Hidden Extractivism at Urban Frontiers: The Green Plan

Sophia Rhee

Columbia University

Comments 21

  1. Kia ora koutou. Greetings to you all!

    My name is Trisia Farrelly. I co-direct the Political Ecology Research Centre with Sy Taffel. All of us at PERC and our co-organisers at Wageningen University hope you have been enjoying the conference so far (the third of PERC’s nearly carbon neutral online conferences).

    We are glad that you have been able to take the opportunity to tune in to this panel on Renewable Energy. I am sure everyone is looking forward to a lively discussion here with lots of questions and comments for the panelists – and to attendees.

    Ngā mihi

  2. Hacer, I have just watched your wonderful presentation on hydropower as green capitalism. Thank you for contributing to this global conversation about the incredibly complex relationships between different energy extraction technologies and the serious consequences to these planet – including those touted as ‘green’. The images of Daribuku Village pre and post hydropower were jarring. I found the statement by one elderly gentlemen, that the development has mean that they ‘now have to live within these four walls’ particularly representative of the human-nature dualisms the hydropower project had amplified.

    Questions: What kind of impact assessments were conducted prior to development and by whom? How did locals resist the hydropower project when they first learned of it? What modes of resistance are seen in the communities now? To what effect?

    1. Dear all,

      I would like to start with my special thanks to Dr. Trisia Farrelly for chairing this session, and to all panelists and attendees. Thank you for your great questions. I am excited to see that each session builds upon the other and complements each other in many respects. My name is Hacer Gören. I am a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Koç University. I have been conducting research in new forms of resource extraction with a focus on mitigation and adaptation efforts since my master’s degree in cultural studies. I am currently working on agricultural adaptation to climate change from a political ecology and STS perspectives.

      Each question is well-entangled in the legal structure and changes in the country. Regarding your first question: An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was conducted by a private firm that is authorized by the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization in 2012. The following sayings reiterated by most of expert interviewees could give us some idea about the shortcomings in its implementation: “I have never seen any EIA report being disapproved; almost all EIAs are put into practice in the country in some way or another”.

      More importantly, “urgent expropriation decision” has played a more important role than the EIA report in the commodification process. Let me briefly explain it: For an urgent expropriation decision to be taken, a state of emergency designated by cabinet decree is required. However, between 1978-2007, the Cabinet took 9 different decisions entitling some public institutions, such as the Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA) with taking urgent expropriation decisions. Under the light of such delegation, we can see an escalating trend in urgent expropriation decisions as of 2000. For instance, despite 14 decisions of “urgent expropriations” between 1978 and 2000 by the Cabinet, this number reaches to 830 from 2000 up until 2014 (Kaya 2019).

      As for the second question: In 2012, with an “urgent” expropriation decision, the Cabinet authorized the Energy Market Regulatory Authority (EMRA) to conduct all expropriation processes for the village. This, in turn, largely blocked the way going to resistance. For, on the one hand, it is the state that intervenes on the grounds of “public interest” with an “urgent” expropriation decision. On the other hand, it is the energy company that is held as the main addressee for any damage during the expropriation.” This has led to the blurring roles between the state and private actors, where the villagers (few trying to resist) could not find the related addressee.

      Again, related to your second question, there was almost a complete lack of local resistance against this disproportionate intervention. At first glance, this could be attributed to two main reasons: One could be the number and the average age of villagers (65) and the fact that the young population had already migrated to urban centers. And the other one is the persuasion and intimidation by the (deceased) village headman and the ensuing rumors and confusion as I touched upon in the presentation.

      On a deeper level, as stated above, in Darıbükü case, the whole process was subject to neoliberal ways of governing via uncertainty, ambiguity, and the shifting roles of power. Before the construction, they had no notification or document informing about the dam and the hydroelectric power plant. The only thing they knew was that one day a dam would be built, and their homes would be expropriated. They had no idea that the village school, mosque, community clinic, the bridge would be submerged. For instance, there was only one villager still maintaining his lawsuit in 2019 who complained that none of the public institutions took responsibility and held the company as the sole address. Yet, the energy company, in turn, did not compensate for most of the resulting damages. This could again allude to the blurring roles and power shifts between the state and private actors, as emblematic of the neoliberal (green) capitalism.

      As to the question “the degree of resistance”, I believe the following statements of one of the villagers, could embody the degree of docility, not that of resistance:
      Me: Are you happy in your new home?

      Villager: How come to be glad! You freeze in winter here and swelter in summer.
      Me: Have you ever tried to oppose it?

      Villager: Would anything change? No!
      Me: Maybe there could be a chance.
      Villager: There is no chance.

  3. David, thank you for you presentation. I trust your fieldwork with be fascinating and enriching. I am very interested to learn if there are possibilities in Kutch that enable agriculture and wind farming to co-exist as is the case in many parts of the world. In such cases, landowners have the opportunity to rent areas of their land to developers.

  4. Dear all,

    I am Roy Cobby, PhD candidate at King’s College London, taking part in Knowledge production and data extraction stream Panel 2: Technology and infrastructure. Thanks for the presentations!

    I really liked Hacer’s research and was interested in seeing Jason W. Moore’s framework on cheap things connected to commodification of rural areas. I am currently research digital agricultural platforms and I want to understand whether farming apps will contribute to this “cheapening” or at least commodification of rural resources, including traditional rural labour and knowledges…

    Sarah and Sango looked at the very political nature of extraction regimes; and particularly its side effects across other sectors, something
    which I think is often forgotten as we focus exclusively on the resource; whether it is water or oil. I will try to include these thoughts in my next project.

    David, I was very interested in the relationship you described between frontier making and territorialisation, I am trying to understand
    digitalisation of rural areas from a similar perspective of creative destruction against new market-building and commodification.

    Finally, Sophia I am very concerned by the relationship between rural transformation (e.g. agricultural commodification) and urban extractivism in the global South. Your presentation gave me key directions to understand this issue.

    1. Dear Roy,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments! I am glad to hear that my presentation was helpful, and I hope to continue deepening my understandings in the future as well.

    2. Thank you Roy for listening to our talk!

      I’m glad that you got the main take home message on “side-effects”. James Ferguson (after Foucault) asks us to study governmental side-effects, but there is more going on here in terms of opening frontiers for material extraction.

    3. Hello Roy,

      Thanks for the comments and sharing your insights. I agree that it would be interesting to see such “cheapening” process in digital agricultural practices as well. I will be watching your presentation too, which looks great and could have some ramifications for my research as well.

      “See” you in your panel!

  5. Presentation by Sarah and Sango provides us with a dramatic example of the impacts of large-scale dams as engines of extraction and state-making. I really liked the conceptualization of “rupture” since it opens up both opportunities and risks simultaneously. At this point, I think this multifariousness of renewables demands re-questioning their costs and benefits one more time.

    I also liked your interpretation that it is not only geophysical transformation; “but even the prospect and the possibility of the dam invites extraction”. I think this is what any mode of resource extraction, be it either small or large-scale, creates or recreates its own “assemblages” the moment it is imagined or planned.

    I have also one question for you. Can you please elaborate on the displacement and resettlement processes? I particularly wonder whether there were people trapped and unable to move or resist to be resettled, for instance. Were they mostly internal or external migrants?


    1. Dear Hacer,

      I absolutely agree on these takeaways from Sarah’s presentation – especially around the imaginaries of extraction in different sectors invited by the dams. This is a great point that I will continue to think about.

      Sarah, I was wondering if you could elaborate on your methodologies for “tracing”/tracking deforested timber, land captures, and new aquatic resources? I am interested in how this project has incorporated research in these different sectors and would love to learn more.

      Thank you!

      1. Hi Sophia,

        Thanks for your thoughts and question. I love your “imaginaries of extraction”, which does seem to apply across all cases.

        In terms of methods for tracing timber / land / other resource flows associated with the dams, this has been based mainly upon key informant interviews and ethnographic field work, including semi-structured interviews with villagers. Timber flows in the Cardamom Mountains, for example were estimated by counting trucks at checkpoints. Mapping of forest and land concessions was then done mainly with NGO collaborators in Cambodia, e.g. Open Development and LICADHO. This is vital work, which is not politically easy to do, as you would know (given what you say in your talk about lack of government disclosure of plans!)

    2. Hi Hacer,

      Thank you for engaging with our talk!

      First, I want to thank you for your paper, as it was complementary to ours and I found it very insightful. I really liked your framing of water as an actant or agent (after Latour and Callon). We too have been wondering about the agency of water – and our human connections to it through the web of life – but also its commodification, in the context of the Cambodian dams. Can we be alienated for water in the same way that we might be alienated from land?

      Second, to answer your question about the resettlement and local villager experiences in our cases: these were varied. Around Lower Sesan Two some villagers agreed to move to “new villages” through a resettlement plan run by the company and government. But their experiences are not positive in general, e.g. due to poor water supply and poor soil at the new sites. Other indigenous villagers refused to move. They stayed at home as the flood waters rose, only eventually to be rescued from their rooftops. These more “recalcitrant” villagers have established their own version of their old village nearby to their flooded homes, refusing to move to the resettlement site…. (a long and important story of indigenous resistance!!). Finally, in areas where homes were not flooded, villagers have not received any compensation, even though they DID lose access to land, forest, paddy and fishery resources. This occurred around the Cardamom Mountains and some of the Lower Sesan Two villages.

      Third, I love this idea of the dam (whether built or not) as an assemblage. It really does help to explain how the dam becomes a node in the wider extractive political economy. Thank you for this thought!

      1. Hi Sarah,

        Many thanks for the answer and your interest in my presentation.

        It seems that alienation, in overt and covert forms, is at work then..

        Thank you again!

  6. Hello everyone and thank you very much for this interesting panel on renewable energy and extraction, I think it was particularly essential to have this discussion.
    Hacer and Sarah, I have much appreciated your presentation on dams, particularly as it is also prevalent in India (you must have heard of the Narmada Valley in India and all the resistance movements generated by the massive dispossession of tribal communities) and it was an important part of the literature I reviewed for my study on wind. Sarah, I have one question on the concept of multi-layered modes of extraction linked to dams development that you mentioned in your presentation: do you think this multi-layered particularity is specifc to hydropower or is also cohabiting with more traditional forms of extraction (mines…) ? Hacer, I really enjoyed your theoritical framework on “green capitalism” as a continuation of fossil fuel capitalism, particularly because I also agree with your analysis. Concerning the commodification of water in your case, did it entail a parallel commodification of land? Because in my case the commodification and extraction of wind is directly associated to the commodification and acquisition of land and that’s where (land) conflicts come from..

    Sophia, I really enjoyed your presentation and particularly how you engage with urban planning and development of standardised land administrative practices: I completly agree with you that planning, zoning and mapping are part of the expansion of state power and control over territories and land, and that’s why I also look at this process from the territorialisation perspective and the mapping of wind farms. Have you witnessed any type of resistance and political reactions to thisdominant “green narratives” you’re describing? Because it seems to be particularly difficult for dispossessed communities to contest these narratives and these narratives seem to be powerful in justifying the dispossession of marginalized communities…

    And finally Trisia, thank you very much for heading this panel on renewables and I find your question quite interesting as I have heard in other parts of India that farmers could lease and rent their lands to private wind companies. But in the case of Kutch, the high majority of acquired lands are public (grazing) ones because they are much more easier to obtain from public authorities. For the private (agricultural) lands they are directly negotiated and bought from the owner by a important network of land brokers but they are never rented essentially because the amount of land needed for a specific wind farm largely exceeds the sole structure of windmills, and large tracks of land are actually required for construction and connecting roads, high-voltage electric lines, substation poles and so on… So it is very difficult for farmers and pastorals to continue their traditional activities and practices in a completly different (and destructed) environment…
    Thank you very much again to all and please do not hesitate to ask any question.

    1. Dear David,

      I also really enjoyed your presentation, and appreciate the comparative study you’ve conducted around contexts of resistance and power relations – I found that there were many parallels in our framing of research and theories.

      To answer your question, I found very little examples of resistance towards the Master Plan itself, if only a general disregard from being unaware of its existence, as well as a lack of enthusiasm towards formalisation arrangements due to expected out-of-pocket expenses. Some resistance occurred by expressing concerns over the planning’s political nature, or contravening zoning bylaws. However, there were uneven levels of information and engagement among wards, along with uneven enforcement. Rather, it seems that the “Green” narratives from the City Council are predominantly oriented towards outsiders, with low awareness among Arusha’s own residents. In this way, it seems a “hidden” form of legitimising its projects, serving as a tool to be used when convenient, and by those holding knowledge about when and where their claims will be backed by law.

      I hope this helps, and look forward to learning more about your results soon!


    2. Hi David,

      Great comments. I’m fascinated by the direct link between the commodification and extraction of wind, and similar associated or linked processes with land. I think that this is what is going on in our case too, and that that is what we mean by multi-layered forms of extraction. It’s that one big project can create or catalyse new frontiers for other/new modes of extraction alongside the big intervention (whether it be a dam or a mine or a wind-farm). Does that make sense? I would be interested in your thoughts, as my ideas are only just taking shape on this!

      Thanks 🙂

    3. Hi David,

      Thank you for sharing such a comprehensive critical lit. review and the initial findings of your fieldwork. I hope to read or listen your future research as well.

      Regarding your question, yes, it was a synchronous commodification and dispossession process for the land as well, particularly within the context of the”urgent” expropriation decision, as I detailed in response to Trisia’s question.

      Thanks again for your interest .

  7. Thank you very much to the presenters who have generously responded to questions and to attendees who are engaging with our presenters.

    A question for Sarah and Sango: Villagers who have been displaced by reservoirs and dam construction have nowhere to go. What do you think will be their fate?

    Also, a question to all presenters in this panel: All of the countries presented here will have obligations to a range of social and environmental regional and international treaties and agreements/set of targets (e.g. SDGs, UDHR, UNDRIP). Do you see any evidence of the broader international community raising the question of accountability/meeting these obligations or targets in light of these extractive activities?

    Also, a reminder: TODAY is our Extraction Conference Zoom drinks – All presenters welcome! Today, Friday 3rd July, 8pm NZT / 10am Amsterdam / 8am UTC / 6pm Sydney/ 4pm Singapore. Grab your wine or coffee and join us by clicking on the Zoom link here:

    I hope to see you all there!


    1. Thank you Trisia for facilitating this panel discussion!

      Your question about international safeguards and conventions regarding green projects is a good one. In our case, with Chinese investors building dams under Cambodian law, there are few safeguards or standards to adhere to; and even when they do apply, it is hard to get local traction that brings any kind of social or environmental justice. Advocacy NGOs have been the main sources of voice and witness for affected communities in this space.

      For the indigenous villagers displaced by hydro-power in Cambodia, many will (sadly) end up as labour on plantations around dam sites, having lost their own land. Others, however, are still struggling and pushing for alternative visions: for example, one village near Lower Sesan Two is starting to demand indigenous communal title for land where they are re-building their village. They have resisted the logics of resettlement, to create their own pathway. This gives some hope. Sango and Sopheak will have more to say on this for sure 🙂

  8. Thank you Trisia for facilitating this panel discussion!

    Your question about international safeguards and conventions regarding green projects is a good one. In our case, with Chinese investors building dams under Cambodian law, there are few safeguards or standards to adhere to; and even when they do apply, it is hard to get local traction that brings any kind of social or environmental justice. Advocacy NGOs have been the main sources of voice and witness for affected communities in this space.

    For the indigenous villagers displaced by hydro-power in Cambodia, many will (sadly) end up as labour on plantations around dam sites, having lost their own land. Others, however, are still struggling and pushing for alternative visions: for example, one village near Lower Sesan Two is starting to demand indigenous communal title for land where they are re-building their village. They have resisted the logics of resettlement, to create their own pathway. This gives some hope. Sango and Sopheak will have more to say on this for sure 🙂

  9. Thank you for your replies presenters. I am am sure these responses will catalyze further discussion over the course of the conference. In the meantime, I have a question or two for Sophia:

    I teach an Urban Anthropology course next semester so your presentation was particularly timely for me! It is so interesting to see how the notion of green urbanisation can be interpreted so vastly differently depending on power, positionality, and particular agendas. I wonder how new understandings of green urbanisation might be amplified and applied in this context? These interpretations might capture the complexities of environmental/social justice. I also wonder if the construction of powerful narratives grounded in sound principles and best practice including intergenerational justice and equality, carbon consumption, food and other forms of security, tourism carrying capacity, regenerative production and consumption have the potential to take root? Is there a growing critical mass of discontented groups? Final question:). What are people doing anyway/despite these developments? In other words, are there any interesting forms of immanent grassroots developments/passive resistence/microactivisms apparent?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *