Austin Lord, MESc

2013 TRI Fellow in Nepal

Turbulence and Confluence: The Lived Uncertainty of Hydropower Development in Nepal

Hydropower development is intensifying in Nepal, as environmental, political, and economic resources are mobilized in response to recurrent social and spatial urgencies at a variety of interrelating scales. Long understood as the primary resource and the necessary future of Nepal, hydropower is supported by complex flows of labor, capital, imagination, and performance – all of which opportunistically locate projects and project goals within different calls to action, green development agendas, crisis narratives, and frames of socio-ecological justice. These ‘scale making projects’ of hydropower (Tsing 2002) use particular spatial logics to restructure and reorient existing physical and human geographies, creating new landscapes of risk and opportunity. The current push for hydropower development creates an expanding resource frontier that is the site of complex processes of location and dislocation, connectedness and fragmentation. Hydropower projects and their infrastructures enter territories already engaged in other processes of change – creating a turbulent interface where differently placed and differently mobile populations incorporate, resist, and refract the spatial logics via their own projects of transformation and future-making. This turbulence produces, catalyzes, and elaborates polyvalent patterns of social and spatial change – creating new geographies of mobility and power.

Yet development rarely arrives upstream in the form imagined – each project exists as a plurality of uncertain experiences with fluid boundaries, defined by variegated forms of participation, resistance, or translation, by a complex series of local articulations and interventions. There is the theory about hydropower and the future of Nepal, and there is the muddier praxis. My research uses political ecology to interrogate the ‘scale making projects’ of hydropower development and to disaggregate patterns of social and spatial change occurring unevenly along the expanding hydro-resource frontier. This work represents an ethnographic study of the turbulence and uncertainty of hydropower-making within the Upper Trishuli and Upper Tamakoshi watersheds – presenting an alternative narrative of development that describes plurality within the lived experience of hydropower in Nepal.