eCite Digital Repository

Media, symbolism and becoming emblematic: lessons form an enduring environmental conflict in Chile


Mocatta, G, Media, symbolism and becoming emblematic: lessons form an enduring environmental conflict in Chile, The 2015 Conference On Communication and Environment In Boulder, 11-14 June, Boulder, Colorado, pp. 10. (2015) [Conference Extract]

Pending copyright assessment - Request a copy

Pending copyright assessment - Request a copy

Official URL:


Since 2006, a conflict surrounding proposed hydroelectric dam building in Chilean Patagonia has occupied a central place in the Chilean political and media landscape. The dam megaproject, developed by joint-­‐owned Spanish/Italian/Chilean company HidroAysén, involves the construction of five hydroelectric dams and a 2300km power line to carry the power north to Chile’s main population and mining/industrial centres. Although a megaproject (Flyvbjerg, Rothengatter & Bruzelius 2003, Flyvbjerg 2005) in terms of project investment (estimated at US$10 billion) and built infrastructure (the proposed high voltage power line would be the world’s longest); the project’s proposed dams (which would flood 5910 ha in total) are relatively small. This is in comparison to other contemporary Latin American dam projects like Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam (flooding 50,280 ha), Inambari in Peru (37,766 ha) and joint Argentine-­‐Brazilian project Garabí-­‐Panambí (estimated to inundate 70,000 ha).

In this paper, communications surrounding the HidroAysén dam project are examined to determine how HidroAysén, despite its dams’ comparatively small size, has become such an emblematic environmental conflict in Chile. The paper conceptualises the HidroAysén conflict as a struggle for both invisibility (Lester & Hutchins 2012) and visibility (Thompson 1995, 2000, 2005, 2011) between the project developers and the anti-­‐dams protest movement, and demonstrates how both sides in the conflict have sought to achieve symbolic power (Bourdieu 2004). The paper also characterises the conflict as an unusually powerful and enduring instance of "reflexive modernisation" (Beck 1992) in Chile – a country which has been characterised by strongly neo-­‐liberal economic development policies and lax environmental regulations in the two-­‐and-­‐a-­‐half decades since its transition from dictatorship. By setting the conflict in its social, political and economic context in contemporary Chile, this paper seeks to understand:

What conditions may allow a mediatized environmental conflict to become emblematic, so that such a conflict comes to represent more than simply protest in the face of perceived environmental risk?

This paper demonstrates that once an environmental conflict has crossed the divide between relative invisibility and becoming emblematic, megaproject developers may never regain control over communications surrounding a project. The paper therefore focuses on that divide itself – the mediatised sparring ground between protest and organisational communication, and pinpoints the events and the communications that constitute that divide. Environmental communication in Chile has received little research attention to date and this paper seeks to address this. Although it uses a local case study, this paper also offers global understandings of the factors that may determine how decisive and enduring such divides become, and how emblematic resulting environmental conflicts.

Item Details

Item Type:Conference Extract
Keywords:megaprojects, media, symbolic communication
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Communication and media studies
Research Field:Communication studies
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture
UTAS Author:Mocatta, G (Ms Gabi Mocatta)
ID Code:134413
Year Published:2015
Deposited By:Media
Deposited On:2019-08-12
Last Modified:2019-08-15

Repository Staff Only: item control page