Heidelberg University

Large Dams:
Contested Environments Between Hydro-Power and Resistance

Project Leader:

Project Members:
Duration: 2008 - 2011
Funding: Excellence Initiative "Asia and Europe"
Project number: C2

Selected Publications

The project analyzed the multi-dimensional asymmetries of scale, time, and directions in the large dam debate with a regional focus on India and China. Large dams have evoked controversial discussions about development paths, effectiveness, environmental consequences, and social justice. After decolonization, widespread construction of large dams started in the countries of the South. These gigantic technological hydro-scapes symbolize the human dominance over nature and form icons of modernity and national prestige. They are often accompanied by massive resistance of adversely affected people and NGOs. Although the World Commission on Dams has been founded to elaborate common ground in the negotiation process and agreed upon five guiding principles: justice, sustainability, efficiency, participation and accountability, the controversy continues. The current debate on CO2-reduction through hydropower revitalizes the global discussion. Based on the notion of contested politicized environments, various textual, visual, and audio materials were analyzed to identify the narratives and imaginations that shape the large dam controversy.


Tehri Dam, Uttharakand (M. Nüsser 2008).


Figure: Large dams: contested environments between hydro-power and resistance (M. Nüsser 2003, modified). Click to enlarge.

  • NÜSSER, M. (ed.) (2014): Large Dams in Asia: Contested Environments between Technological Hydroscapes and Social Resistance. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York (= Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research).
  • NÜSSER, M. (2014): Technological Hydroscapes in Asia: The Large Dams Debate Reconsidered. In: NÜSSER, M. (ed.): Large Dams in Asia: Contested Environments between Technological Hydroscapes and Social Resistance. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York (= Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research): 1-14.
  • BAGHEL, R. (2014): Misplaced Knowledge: Large Dams as an Anatopism in South Asia. In: NÜSSER, M. (ed.): Large Dams in Asia: Contested Environments between Technological Hydroscapes and Social Resistance. Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York (= Advances in Asian Human-Environmental Research): 1-14.
  • BAGHEL, R. (2012): Knowledge, power and the environment: Epistemologies of the Anthropocene. Transcience 3(1): 1-6. [Editor's introduction to the special issue]
  • ERLEWEIN, A. & M. NÜSSER (2011): Offsetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Himalaya? Clean Development Dams in Himachal Pradesh, India. In: Mountain Research and Development 31 (4): 293-304.
  • BAGHEL, R. & NÜSSER, M. (2010): Discussing Large Dams in Asia after the World Commission on Dams: Is a Political Ecology Approach the Way Forward? In: Water Alternatives 3 (2): 231-248.
  • Further Information
    Excellence Cluster
    'Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows'
    Spillway of Tehri Dam, Uttharakhand (M. Nüsser 2008).