The hydrosociality of mega dam projects: A case study from Sri Lanka

Mr Kavindra Paranage1

1Monash University, Clayton, Australia


While critical geographers and political ecologists have identified the capacity of water flows to both influence and be influenced by socio-political factors, this understanding of the hydrosociality of water has not been widely applied in the context of mega-dam projects that have largely characterized water management in the twentieth century. Drawing on a case study based on one of worlds largest mega-dam projects – the Mahaweli Development Project carried out in Sri Lanka – this study explores the hydrosociality that characterizes such projects, contributing to both the political ecological and critical development literature on large-scale water management. This study argues that the way water flows are arranged in mega-dam projects is the result of a long process of ideas, interests, perspectives, discourses, actors, and rationalities contesting with each other, vying for dominance and forming assemblages. Thus, mega-dam projects are rarely implemented according to one monolithic logic or rationality – rather, the design of these projects represent unique constellations of various socio-political forces. Viewing mega-dam projects in this light enables us to better understand the hydrosocial landscape these projects leave behind them, to better understand the complex socio-political consequences of implementing such ‘big water’ projects.


Kavindra Paranage is a Ph.D. Candidate in Human Geography at Monash University. His research focuses on Sri Lanka, engaging with a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues related to development and water governance. These include the politics of development in water projects, regulatory failures in water governance, and the place of expert knowledge in the development schematic. Kavindra obtained degrees in Sociology and in Law, and in 2017 received MIPRS and MGS scholarships for his Ph.D. He has also served as a lecturer at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka and has presented his work at numerous international conferences.

The Trilemma of Energy Justice – Insights from India’s Solar Mission

Dr Komali Yenneti1

1University of New South Wales, Kensington, Australia


In the recent years, social issues around renewable energy implementation have been gaining prominence both in developed and developing countries. Though researchers in developed countries have started dealing with this issue, there is a dearth of literature in developing countries. It is essential that justice issues are re-examined in this new arena that will increasingly affect the livelihoods of thousands of people in densely populated and socio-economically unequal developing country regions. In this paper, I explore the ‘trilemma of energy justice’ using the case study of a large scale ‘Solar Park’ implementation in India. The energy justice framework used in this paper corresponds to the theoretical knowledge on a) procedural justice, b) distributional justice and c) recognition principles based in social, environmental, spatial and energy justice literatures. The findings of this research provides new insights into how social justice issues, such as recognition of marginalised communities, equal and democratic participation and just distribution of project outcomes, are intrinsically interconnected to implementation of ‘environmentally good’ projects. This work is unique and timely as global leaders scale-up sustainable energy policies to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Dr. Komali Yenneti is a Lecturer and New Generation Network Scholar at UNSW Sydney as well as an Honorary Fellow at the Australia-India Institute. She has an extensive education, research, policy and advocacy experience in climate change, energy policy and global development in the Asia Pacific. She has served in research, advocacy and advisory capacities for several international organizations in the past, including The Energy and Resources Institute, CEPT University, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, and German Development Institute. Komali is interested in inspiring next-generation scholars, and is the founding chair of the IGU’s Young and Early-Career Geographers Task Force.

A Solar Convergence: The Geographies of Solar Household Systems in Malawi

Mr Shanil Samarakoon1

1UNSW – School of Humanities and Languages, Sydney, Australia


With just 11% of its 17.5 million population having access to grid-based electricity, Malawi is one of the least electrified countries in the world. Like several sub-Saharan African nations, the pernicious impacts of energy poverty are disproportionately experienced by Malawi’s rural majority (over 80%), of which just 3.9% are connected to the national grid. In response, Malawian households are increasingly turning to off-grid solar technologies as a source of electricity for lighting, and powering appliances. It is estimated that between 10-15% of Malawi’s population are using some form of off-grid solar technology, ranging from entry-level solar lanterns to larger household systems. The growing importance of off-grid solar technologies is also reflected in the government’s “Malawi Renewable Energy Strategy” as it constitutes 50% (2.3 million connections) of the nation’s aspirational connection mix. In step with both local and global efforts to end energy poverty, international institutions like the World Bank and USAID have developed funds to catalyse market-based approaches to solar adoption in Malawi. However, as this presentation will highlight through ethnographic insights, the promise of Malawi’s liberalised solar market is complicated by issues of affordability, quality, low-levels of technical literacy, cross-border trade, and migration.


PhD Candidate  – UNSW School of Humanities and Languages

Lecturer – Centre for Social Impact, UNSW

Co-founder and Director  – Zuwa Energy


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