The Production of Uncertainty in Lao Hydropower
Expertise: Cultures and Technologies of Knowledge
Published by: Cornell University Press
288 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 6 b&w halftones, 1 b&w line drawing, 1 chart
- ISBN: 9781501730917
- Published: January 2019
In the 2000s, Laos was treated as a model country for the efficacy of privatized, "sustainable" hydropower projects as viable options for World Bank-led development. By viewing hydropower as a process that creates ecologically uncertain environments, Jerome Whitington reveals how new forms of managerial care have emerged in the context of a privatized dam project successfully targeted by transnational activists. Based on ethnographic work inside the hydropower company, as well as with Laotians affected by the dam, he investigates how managers, technicians and consultants grapple with unfamiliar environmental obligations through new infrastructural configurations, locally-inscribed ethical practices, and forms of flexible experimentation informed by American management theory.
Far from the authoritative expertise that characterized classical modernist hydropower, sustainable development in Laos has been characterized by a shift from the risk politics of the 1990s to an ontological politics in which the institutional conditions of infrastructure investment are pervasively undermined by sophisticated ‘hactivism.’ Whitington demonstrates how late industrial environments are infused with uncertainty inherent in the anthropogenic ecologies themselves. Whereas ‘anthropogenic’ usually describes human-induced environmental change, it can also show how new capacities for being human are generated when people live in ecologies shot through with uncertainty. Implementing what Foucault called a "historical ontology of ourselves," Anthropogenic Rivers formulates a new materialist critique of the dirty ecologies of late industrialism by pinpointing the opportunistic, ambitious and speculative ontology of capitalist natures.
Introduction: The Production of Uncertainty
Interlude. On the Postcolony (Engineering)
Hydropower's Circle of Influence
Interlude. What Is a Dam?
Vulnerable at Every Joint
Interlude. Intimacy (Vetting)
3. Performance-Based Management
Interlude. The Method of Uncertainty
4. The Ethics of Document Engineering
Interlude. Interview Notes (Lightly Edited)
5. Anthropogenic Rivers
Conclusion: Figuring the Anthropogenic
"Whitington's book analyses a period of unprecedented hydropower development during which the country effectively doubled its major dams. The book is daunting in its complexity, but it essentially con- ceptualises the administration of water from its practices"~Australian Book Review
"Bursting with insights about dams as an ecological response in the contemporary moment, Anthropogenic Rivers will be required reading for environmental anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and science and technology studies scholars with an interest in enviro-technical landscapes. This book also adds to the burgeoning literature on rivers and waters in Asia tackling what it means to do environmental scholarship in late industrial and post-socialist landscapes in the global South. Finally, this book breaks fresh ground in ethnography of the statist development by rethinking how we define expertise and uncertainty. Every reader will come away from the book to look at rivers and dammed waterscapes with a new lens."~H-Net
"Through the ethnographic study of an unusual, experimental collaboration between a hydropower company constructing dams in Laos and a transnational activist group, Whitington's Anthropogenic Rivers examines the purposeful production of uncertainty as a strategic political ontology and as a form of knowledge. Anthropogenic Rivers is an exciting contribution to the study of uncertainty and a slightly rebel addition to the by now well established subgenre of analyses of the Anthropocene."~Anthropos