Accepted Paper:

An anthropological approach of large dams in France and worldwide  


Armelle Faure (Independent consultant, France)

Paper short abstract:

My first fieldwork in West Africa (1982-1991) turned to a situational analysis of the situation of the Bissa people before the building of the Bagre Dam on the Nakambe/Volta River. Then I studied the social and cultural impacts of 5 large dams in the Dordogne Valley in France (1998-2005). My research has become a part of a major contemporary topic, the worldwide anthropological approach of Large dams, catalysed by the work of the World Commission on Dams.

Paper long abstract:

A retrospective ethnographic assesment of the social impact of the displacement caused by large dams in France involves the memory of local witnesses and a careful study of the local archives. The french large dams built in 1930-1970's have displaced about two thousand people in the Alps, Provence, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central (The Dordogne Gorges).

New insights arose while listening to the people such as the importance of rebuilding transport connections ; railways in France. Local knowledge highlights the perception of the identity of an infrastructure, and the rituals related to it, including those caused by the loss of cultural heritage. Interviews show that even among the third generation people still feel anger against the social process.

An international academic community shared interest of large dams starting in the 60's. These African dams displaced around fifty thousand people each. Displacement and resettlement became common issues on infrastructure projects. Prof. Cernea (World Bank) prepared a safeguard policy : Involuntary Resettlement. A milestone has been published : « The Future of Large Dams » (Scudder 2005). At a national level in France, the support from the international community led to publish this year the first book on large dams and on displacement.

A new generation is becoming increasingly global, using digital communication. Each engaged as social experts during the building of dams and other infrastructure. The new projects may contribute to the critical movement for a better understanding of what is at stake. In this way the situation of the so called « affected population » can be improved.

Panel W121
Poster session