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Accepted Paper:

Unsettling bureaucratic designs: hydro-social power relations in harnessing the Mekong's waters to irrigate Isaan  
David Blake (University of York)

Paper short abstract:

Inter- and intra-bureaucratic power dynamics have frequently been over-looked in understanding hydro-social transformation processes. This paper uses empirical evidence from a diversion scheme from the Mekong River into NE Thailand to extend understanding of the logics of national power relations.

Paper long abstract:

Beyond Indonesia, there have been few studies regarding the actors, effects and processes of bureaucratic patrimonialism in the context of complex hydro-social landscapes in Southeast Asia. This paper intends to rectify this perceived lacuna by considering the case of a hydraulic engineering mega-project proposed for Northeast Thailand (Isaan), a sub-region in the midst of a wider region undergoing constant and far-reaching socio-ecological flux and change. Isaan has been characterised by a persistent drive by successive regimes over sixty years to construct a hydro-utopian scheme that will rectify its perceived socio-economic and "natural" deficiencies and problems. This paper seeks to disentangle some of the complex webs of power relations among and between the main hydraulic bureaucracies and wider constituencies that push forward (or constrain) the dominant discourse, using the concept of bureaucratic patrimonialism in a critical manner. Drawing on previous studies conducted in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand itself, the paper extends understandings of the roles of the hydrocracies and other actors that interact with them, paying special attention to inter-bureaucratic competition that may constrain or disrupt the grander controlling designs and whims of ruling elites. It suggests that such the inherently unstable nature of the social-cum-hydrological dynamics being enacted locally, nationally and (increasingly) regionally lead to accidental and unpredictable material outcomes, increasing the vulnerability of the dependent populations of human and non-human actors.

Panel Env05
Volatile waters, improvised worlds: hydrosocial transformations and the making of orderly flows [P+R]
  Session 1 Tuesday 16 April, 2019, -