Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 617–633 | Cite as

More dams, more violence? A global analysis on resistances and repression around conflictive dams through co-produced knowledge

  • Daniela Del Bene
  • Arnim Scheidel
  • Leah Temper
Special Feature: Original Article The EJAtlas: Ecological Distribution Conflicts as Forces for Sustainability
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: The EJAtlas: Ecological Distribution Conflicts as Forces for Sustainability


The present article analyses a unique database of 220 dam-related environmental conflicts, retrieved from the Global Atlas on Environmental Justice (EJAtlas), and based on knowledge co-production between academics and activists. Despite well-known controversial, social, and environmental impacts of dams, efforts to increase renewable energy generation have reinstated the interest into hydropower development globally. People affected by dams have largely denounced such ‘unsustainabilities’ through collective non-violent actions. Nevertheless, we found that repression, criminalization, violent targeting of activists and assassinations are recurrent features of conflictive dams. Violent repression is particularly high when indigenous people are involved. Indirect forms of violence are also analysed through socio-economic, environmental, and health impacts. We argue that increasing repression of the opposition against unwanted energy infrastructures does not only serve to curb specific protest actions, but also aims to delegitimize and undermine differing understanding of sustainability, epistemologies, and world views. This analysis cautions that allegedly sustainable renewables such as hydropower often replicates patterns of violence within a frame of an ‘extractivism of renewables’. We finally suggest that co-production of knowledge between scientists, activists, and communities should be largely encouraged to investigate sensitive and contentious topics in sustainability studies.


Hydroelectric dams Violence Extractivism Ecological distribution conflicts Renewable energies Co-production of knowledge 



This research has been supported by the ENVJUSTICE project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC—Grant agreement no. 695446). Daniela Del Bene and Leah Temper also acknowledge the support of the ACKnowl-EJ project, with the support of the Transformations to Sustainability Programme, coordinated by the International Social Science Council-ISSC (Grant number ISSC2015-TKN150317115354). We would like to thank all collaborators of the EJAtlas for their meticulous work and dedication in documenting the cases discussed here, as well as for their daily commitment for protecting and sustaining life. The constructive comments of three anonymous reviewers are acknowledged as well as from members of the ENVJUSTICE research team.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela Del Bene
    • 1
  • Arnim Scheidel
    • 1
  • Leah Temper
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA)Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB)BarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.McGill UniversityMontréalCanada

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