(Re)Defining Sustainability
: Belo Monte, São Luiz do Tapajós and Storylines of Resistance

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis examines the processes of interplay between pro-dam and resistance coalitions within the planning and construction of the Belo Monte and São Luiz do Tapajós projects in contemporary Brazil. In particular, I focus on the role of discourse - what I term ‘storylines’ - within this contest. Drawing on Gramscian notions of hegemony and the post-structuralist discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe, and the wider Essex School, this work focuses on how resistance actors have advanced new storylines that both challenge and reconfigure the dominant pro-dam storylines that present the hydropower schemes studied as renewable energy projects that contribute to sustainable development agendas. This is with particular reference to the processes of repoliticisation and ‘scaling up’, which, taken together, render visible the political interests behind a project and link the resistance movement to wider questions of contemporary environmental politics. The empirical data underpinning the analysis has been generated during a period of fieldwork in Brazil in late-2016 and includes semistructured interviews, questionnaires and document analysis.

By examining the numerous storylines advanced by resistance actors to discredit the Belo Monte and São Luiz do Tapajós projects, this thesis illuminates the processes of interplay and reconfiguration that repoliticise hydropower projects and scale up local demands and grievances into global storylines of opposition. It highlights the contested meaning of sustainability, with the concept rearticulated by resistance actors as equivalent to numerous social and environmental demands and grievances that are undiscussed in pro-dam storylines. This thesis thereby opens up new lines of enquiry into how hegemonic storylines of sustainable hydropower remain contestable and argues for the importance of studying these resistance acts of contestation and reconfiguration in opposing global policies of dam-construction.
Date of Award25 Sept 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorAdrian G Flint (Supervisor) & Karen Tucker (Supervisor)

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