Disputing the 'National Interest': The depoliticization and repoliticization of the Belo Monte Dam, Brazil

Ed Atkins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
219 Downloads (Pure)


The construction of a hydroelectric project transforms the watershed in which it is located, leading to a moment of contestation in which the scheme is challenged by opposition actors. This paper explores the interplay between pro- and anti-dam coalitions contesting the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil by discussing how each group inscribes the project with a particular resonance in policy. Drawing upon the work of Chantal Mouffe on agonism and Tania Murray Li on 'rendering technical', the subsequent discussion analyzes semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, and primary documents to explore how the storylines advanced by pro- and anti-dam actors contest the political character of Belo Monte. It is argued that within these storylines, Belo Monte's positioning within the 'national interest' represents a key site of the project's depoliticization and repoliticization-which are understood as the respective denial and illumination of the project's location within a wider terrain of political antagonism and conflict. Whilst pro-dam actors assert the apolitical character of the project by foregrounding it within depoliticized questions of economic benefits, anti-dam actors reground the project within a context of political corruption and the circumvention of dissent. With this paper providing evidence of how contests over dam construction are linked to the concealing and/or illumination of the project's political content, it is argued that the repoliticization of a project by a resistance movement can have consequences far beyond the immediate site of construction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103
Number of pages21
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2019


  • Belo Monte
  • Brazil
  • Dams
  • Depoliticization
  • Energy policy
  • Hydropower
  • National interest
  • Repoliticization

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