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When Water is Energy: Tracing Mediatized Discourses in Chile’s Mega-Hydro Debate


Mocatta, G, When Water is Energy: Tracing Mediatized Discourses in Chile's Mega-Hydro Debate, Water, Rhetoric, and Social Justice, Rowman and Littlefield, CR Schmitt, CS Thomas, TR Castor (ed), USA, pp. 43-60. ISBN 9781793605214 (2020) [Research Book Chapter]

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Debates in the water justice literature have most often centered on equitable access to water. However, debates around water for hydroelectric energy generation, and socio-environmental justice for those most affected by hydroelectric developments, have also now increasingly become intertwined with the literature on water justice (Hoffman 2017; Islar 2013; Martínez and Castillo 2016; Schneider, Buser and Graefe 2014; Zanotti 2015). This is particularly so in relation to the Global South (Harris, Goldin and Sneddon 2013), where privatization and marketization of water, together with a new spate of hydroelectric dam building (Ansar et al. 2015; Zarfl et al. 2014) have spurred activism against dams and mediatized conflict surrounding water justice. Due to this renewed growth in hydroelectric dam initiatives, especially in the current context of energy transition, understanding discourses around hydroelectricity and water justice is now particularly timely.

This chapter offers insights into a discursive dimension for understanding struggles for water justice. It examines what happens in water justice debates when water represents energy, by tracing the mediatized enactment of conflict (Hutchins and Lester 2015) over the never-realized HidroAysén hydroelectric megaproject, planned for Patagonia, Chile. Using a detailed case study of conflict surrounding this project, this chapter focuses on the ways that anti-dams activist and pro-hydroelectric development discourses around water and energy emerged and interacted across the trajectory of the debate over the dams. It examines discourse surrounding national interest, climate change, and energy transition in Chile that emerged as part of the lengthy dams debate, and it also investigates how activist discourses ultimately sought to connect "water-based forms of injustice" (Zwarteveen and Boelens 2014, 148) with wider questions of social inequality in Chile. The chapter shows how, by connecting place-based water injustices in the far southern reaches of Chile with intergenerational social inequality and incomplete democratization on a national level, anti-dams activism made HidroAysén representative of much more than a conflict around water and environment. This chapter argues that it was ultimately this ability to discursively connect seemingly disparate issues that ensured the HidroAysén case ended with a win for socio-environmental justice in Chile.

The research here contributes to a growing field of studies of discourse in relation to hydroelectric dam construction in diverse national contexts, including the work of Ozen (2014), Wooden and de la Croix (2015), Borgias and Braun (2017) and Tur et al. (2018). This chapter builds on such analyses by making a detailed study of pro- and anti-dams discourse in media over an extended time period, and by connecting hydroelectric dam building with wider questions of water and socio-environmental inequality, (in)justice, and the mediatized enactment of environmental conflict.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Keywords:environment, discourse, water management, water justice
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Communication and media studies
Research Field:Communication studies
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Other environmental management
Objective Field:Other environmental management not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:Mocatta, G (Dr Gabi Mocatta)
ID Code:134359
Year Published:2020
Deposited By:Media
Deposited On:2019-08-08
Last Modified:2021-09-06

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