Accepted Paper:

Volatile Powers: Place- and Force-Making in the Tana Delta and Beyond   


Sandro Simon (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

The Tana Delta has a longstanding history of ecological change, territorial re-organization and socio-political tensions. This papers seeks to show how this relates to the delta's own high socio-physical volatility and the multi-stranded and -directional flows of power in and beyond the delta.

Paper long abstract:

The nesting of power in a delta (e.g. dams, irrigation schemes) is both a spatial and a temporal phenomena. Places of power are continuously becoming more of a place and less of a place. Thereby, the flows that help to constitute them, for instance water, knowledge or money, are not uni-directional: A dam or irrigation project is neither 'put over' a place nor the direct result of upstream to downstream- or global to local-flow, because both 'place-making' and 'force-making' are caught up in differently scaled and interrelated phenomena at the same time (cf. Tsing 2002).

In the case of the 16,800 ha Tana Delta Irrigation Project, funded in 1987 by the Japanese development cooperation, international and national actors with diverging political and economic agendas tried to establish a project that aimed at boosting rice production and transforming local work practices from farming and herding to wage labor. However, the project was characterized by non-functionality (e.g. in terms of output, hydrology or local food security and public health) and was largely abandoned after the destruction of its main embankment by El NiƱo floods in 1998.

Hence, the project was on the one hand indeed a strong driver of social and physical change but, on the other hand, largely dissolved because of its inability to 'dance along' to the volatile and interrelated socio-physical flows. Thus, this paper will try to trace how its fixity, both materially and conceptually, prevented it from establishing a spatially and temporally persistent, and simultaneously emergent, place of power.

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