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accounting for the fullest possible range of costs and benefits, or it can be done poorly by
ignoring inconvenient data or by inviting only certain constituent groups to the table.
I appreciate the critical pieces of scholarship that highlight the myriad problems of large-
scale development projects such as dams, but I don't think they end the conversation. An-
thropologists and other social scientists tend to avoid any sort of prescriptive statements
and often show a reflexive resistance to social change. But sociopolitical systems are com-
plex, and we are often forced to live and work within ones that we don't find fully satisfact-
ory. Whether we like it or not, the current question in China and in many other parts of the
globe is not whether to build a dam, but rather how to build it, where to build it, and how
to responsibly address the most egregious environmental and social ills through the use of
mitigation measures or compensation programs.
Do we stand outside the system and critique it, or do we roll up our sleeves and engage
with it? The costs of engagement, I have suggested, include the risk of being wrong, the
risk of being labeled a reductionist by one's peers, and even the risk of embracing a fun-
damentally flawed system. But disengagement also comes with a set of costs, whether we
acknowledge them or not. In short, disengagement allows for the perpetuation of the status
quo, and the status quo is one in which hydropower-development corporations, armed with
hugeamounts ofcapital andincreasingly vested withforeignshareholder money,canspeak
in a very loud voice to influence policy.
Participating in the discussion can help to promote development strategies that address
in this topic shows that compensation measures are improving over time and that people
facing resettlement in the near future can expect to fair better than their counterparts in
the recent past. These steady improvements are partly the result of the tireless efforts by
Chinese and foreign social scientists, journalists, and others who have worked to document
the social costs of dams, to publicize their findings, and to advocate for better outcomes,
often at considerable risk to their careers and their reputations.
I have alluded to the long history of dam construction in many parts of the world, which
stretches back millennia into the past. Dams continue to be viewed today as viable drivers
of economic development in China and other emerging economies because of the electri-
city and revenue they generate. As I have shown in this topic, the funding mechanisms and
many other features of hydropower development have changed, but dams have proven re-
markably durable as a development strategy.
By the 1970s, most industrialized countries, under pressure from the bourgeoning envir-
onmental movement, had largely stopped building hydropower dams—at least within their
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