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.

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