Mekong Dams in the Drama of Development

by Larry Lohmann

first published 31 March 1998


Development projects can be viewed as dramas. Act I features the heroes’ attempts to impose a simple technical fantasy on a complex landscape. In Act II, these attempts are opposed by the peoples and landscapes concerned. Act III -- the climax -- sees attempts to contain this resistance through increasingly convoluted excursions in manipulation, enclosure, compensation and seduction, each of which initiates a fresh dramatic plot. The results are always unanticipated and can be better understood as the outcome of narrative conflict than as the implementation of plans.



How hard it is to find a theory of which big development projects might be the practice! Every time one looks at a large hydroelectric dam or irrigation scheme, its rationale seems to have changed. Economics -- poverty relief -- protection against natural disaster -- tourism: as justifications for a project all of these can be taken up and dropped in an instant, while the proposal for the scheme itself remains, rolling forward under another flag.

The presence of hidden agendas, of course, helps explain this insouciant attitude toward the ostensible reasons for building a project. Bureaucratic power grabs, corporate profiteering, pork barrel, urban resource hunger, attempts to expand markets, imperialist ideology, graft, superstitions about "progress" are all likely to exercise a more powerful influence over decisions to undertake a big scheme than the justifications which are discussed in public. But these forces, too, often seem insufficient to account for either the way dams are planned or how they actually turn out. How, in the end, does one make sense of development?

Such reflections are never far from the consciousness of anyone concerned about the effects of large dams. They have recently been revived powerfully, for those following events in Southeast Asia, by news of the proposed $1.5 billion Nam Theun 2 dam, which would flood an area the size of Singapore and wipe out much of the fisheries and forests in the basins of two Mekong tributaries in Laos. Unlike Malaysia's equally destructive $5 billion Bakun dam, plans for which were put back on the shelf last August, Nam Theun 2 has emerged from the region's recent financial and currency implosion with its fortunes not only intact but even -- astonishingly -- improved.

Currently the largest proposed hydroelectric project with mainly private financing in Asia, Nam Theun 2 had been one of the larger and paler of the region's white elephants even before last year's collapse. In five years, its projected cost had nearly doubled from US$800 million, while even the projects' proponents' predictions of annual revenue to Laos's government -- whose 30 per cent shareholding amounts to three times the tiny country's annual budget -- declined by 85 per cent, from $250 million to $38 million. Independent analysts took a darker view, one noting that Laos stood a good chance of "loss of total investment while incurring environmental, social and opportunity costs" if the project went ahead.1 Barclays, Societe General and Deutsche Bank, who were canvassed to provide commercial loans to the project's private-sector partners, gave notice that Nam Theun 2 was not worthy of investment without extraordinary guarantees provided by the World Bank.

Even before the Thai "bubble economy" popped, moreover, Nam Theun 2 had been without an assured market for its power. EGAT, the Thai electricity authority and the dam's sole prospective customer, had cancelled its power purchase agreement in October 1996, citing delays in the anticipated completion date for construction. The sharp drop in projected Thai demand from mid-year 1997 and the growing role of independent power producers within Thailand itself rendered hopes for an economic return from the project even more forlorn. The risks to Laos were especially frightening in that Nam Theun 2 is expected to incur a debt four times that of the country's annual national budget.

Rewriting Nam Theun 2

Tacitly acknowledging that the project was economically shaky, the World Bank worked out a mechanism in May 1997 which would pay off the private investors in the project in the event any local difficulties made their involvement unprofitable, with Laos itself ultimately being obliged to pick up the tab -- with interest -- for any bailout. Earlier, the Bank had also taken steps to forestall the sort of criticism that had forced it to back off from its support of the Sardar Sarovar dam in India and the Arun III dam in Nepal by pushing the Nam Theun 2 consortium to commission a raft of new studies into the environmental, social and economic impacts of the dam. Although Lao officials bristled at the imperiousness of these demands, in the end the Bank got its way, and in 1997 the studies were delivered. The consultants contracted responded beautifully. Not only did their studies say the sorts of things such studies usually say -- for example, that the 60 species of fish which villagers along the Theun river rely on for protein are "not expected to be seriously affected" after the project cuts flows to between 1/12th and 1/100th of their normal volume.2 In addition, the World Conservation Society, which carried out a biodiversity study which revealing the presence of new mammal species in the dam area, even reversed its earlier opposition to the dam. Scenting the "resources" which the dam project could bring into the area for "management expertise", Alan Rabinowitz, the noted wild cat specialist who heads the Society's Asia division, went so far as to say that a World Bank-supported dam project opening up the area to further logging and flooding 470 square kilometres of forests and grasslands was the only way to counter the area's "rapid decline of forests and wildlife".3

As a result, Bank-mandated "public consultations" held in 1997 in the old CIA headquarters in Vientiane saw project promoters taking the environmentalist offensive, calling Nam Theun 2 a "landmark for conservation",4 while incredulous environmentalists, under the vigilant eye of the Lao authorities, found themselves unable to do much more than point to the project's shady economics. Despite having long been criticized for its potential devastating effects on thousands of local residents, Nam Theun 2 was now also hailed by a Bank-appointed Panel of Experts as "relieving poverty". By October, several months after the economic crisis hit, the Bank had wriggled itself into the position of being able to submit the project for internal "appraisal", the last bureaucratic step before what is usually a rubber-stamp decision by the Bank's Executive Directors to back a project.

Not even those most jaded by the development industry's workings could pretend to be unimpressed by this alchemy. Five years previously, no one had thought of Nam Theun 2 as anything but a crude machine for producing electricity for export -- certainly not the Lao authorities, whose continuing faith in high modernist ideals of progress through industrialization is reflected in the engravings of factories which adorn the country's paper currency. No doubt the logs to be sold from the reservoir zone and the chance to collect lucrative consultancies were also selling points for some, but the idea that the scheme, now bereft of economic justification, could be of local social and environmental benefit was breathtaking.

Yet just how novel was the plot of Nam Theun 2's miraculous makeover? Recall once more the story-line. An untenable project's effects and risks are "mitigated" so that it can go forward. Under the press of circumstances, these mitigations become "benefits", then justifications, then part of the project's essence, as its original rationale falls away. The intrepid technicians and financiers planning the emerging "multipurpose" project are thrust into fresh roles riding herd on a diversifying swarm of specialists called up to calm the successive waves of difficulties created by each new turn the project takes, and who quickly conjure up their own reasons for seeing the project built or extended. So -- one may ask -- what else is new?

Huay Mong

Some nearby examples of already-completed dams from across the river in Thailand confirm a feeling of deja vu. The Huay Mong scheme, to take one instance, lies only a couple of hundred kilometres' paddle up the Mekong from the mouth of Nam Theun. Here, a little west of Nong Khai on the Thai bank, Belgian machines stolidly whir away inside a concrete and steel block thrown across the mouth of a small tributary, regulating water levels for a project irrigating 86 square kilometres of land upstream. For those who like their development projects on a heroic scale, Huay Mong, with its one-story administration buildings sheltering behind bougainvillea bushes, may seem almost too modest to notice. But its story is at least as full of unexpected swerves as that of Nam Theun 2. In the late 1970s, Huay Mong was envisaged as an appendage to the grandiose proposed Pa Mong dam on the Mekong mainstream, from whose reservoir it was slated to draw irrigation water by gravity. When Pa Mong was shelved in 1979 (original proposals called for the resettlement of 250,000 people or more), planners consoled themselves by hurriedly redrawing Huay Mong as a stand-alone pumped irrigation and flood control scheme. An agreement securing partial funding was signed with the European Commission in 1981 and the completed project launched in 1987 under Thailand's National Energy Administration.

At first, this "social experiment" -- as it is described by officials responsible for the project -- consisted of nothing more than basic engineering works. Few arrangements had been made, for example, for getting irrigation water to farmers. So a new project had to be added to try to adapt the landscape to what had already been built. Tertiary canals were dug to provide easy water access for every field, and the Agricultural Land Reform Office was drawn in as lead agency. Alas, many local farmers whose land the canals crossed expressed adverse views on this move, and local residents who were on the side of the river to benefit from the project's engineering works displayed noticeable reluctance to join the associated "on-farm development" scheme. By 1993, European Union donors were demanding that someone "create the need for the structure" -- to quote the candid phrase of a Belgian consultant engineer who recently spoke to visitors about the project. Policy was rewritten and new agencies arrived to improve agricultural output and develop "local institutions" and "human resources". Tertiary canals were now to be constructed only when requested by farmers, and villager "self-reliance" and a "sense of belonging" were to be fostered. Admittedly, these last phrases carried an Orwellian ring, given that the project had been imposed on the local area and that developing the financial and technical skills to manage it locally meant dependence on official schooling rather than local skills. But the real problem was that European donor pressure to retrofit the project to make it more "participatory" -- by making water-user group committees democratically elected, increasing their role in maintaining the project's infrastructure, "empowering" farmers' organizations, getting government field staff to concern themselves with "community development", and so forth -- had ignited a further phase of resistance. This originated from the very Thai government bureaucracies running Huay Mong, who understandably dragged their feet in the face of the Europeans' criticism of their prerogatives, working methods and "top-down" approach. To this, the European response was as absurd as it was inevitable: "reform Thai government agencies".

What will happen next is unclear. In any case, the obligatory self-deceptions of the unfortunate Belgian engineer currently consulting for the project -- "It has been a struggle, but I'm proud we could change the approach of the government" -- are perhaps best passed over in merciful silence, as they were by local interpreters translating his remarks for some recent Thai visitors. The essential point to note is that in order to make sense out of concrete which had been poured at Huay Mong in the early and mid-1980s, it had become necessary by 1998 for the concerned European agencies to adopt a stance at once quixotic and openly imperialistic: that of remakers of the Thai state. The technician's dream of imposing effective irrigation and flood-control infrastructure on a Mekong tributary had ultimately engendered other hubristic fantasies calling for the political reengineering of a larger society. Upstream, meanwhile, beneath the latticework imposed by the project -- its roads, dikes, pump stations, and canals -- the emblems of what used to be a rich fishing landscape remain: scrubby, flood-adapted riverbank forest, flat terrain, and winding streams, lagoons and pools. But the yearly flush of Mekong water in and out of Huay Mong on which the migratory fish population rode has been blocked, wiping out what had been a main support of the local economy.

Nam Oon

Down the Mekong from Huay Mong and up another Thai tributary lies a second project with an even longer pedigree. On the books since 1954, the Nam Oon project, with its three-kilometre-long dam and 85-square-kilometre reservoir, was built between 1967 and 1973 in a communist stronghold. Its function was double: storage irrigation and insurgency suppression. Like Huay Mong, the project had not exactly been planned to fit in smoothly with the local landscape and its inhabitants' needs. That was part of the point. Yet here again, an assortment of ex post facto attempts at social engineering had to be made to adjust the evolving physical and social surroundings to the scheme, and vice versa. Thus, in order to be able "to efficiently distribute irrigation water into farm plots", land had to be consolidated and rezoned for intensive and extensive agriculture. An Integrated Rural Development Project was added in the late 1970s to increase commercial production. An Agro-Production and Marketing Development Project came along in 1988 to allow contract farming schemes led by the private sector to exploit the project. Water Users' groups have meanwhile been started up to "encourage the farmers to participate in operation and maintenance". By 1985, at least four ministries were on the scene. Among the agencies involved were the Royal Irrigation Department, the Department of Agricultural Extension, the Department of Fisheries, the Community Development Department, the Department of Nonformal Education, the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, the Department of Public Welfare, the Department of Livestock Development, the Office of Agricultural Economics, the Central Land Consolidation Office and the Cooperatives Promotion Department.5 This is not to include late arrivals from the private sector such as Adams International, who benefited from contract farming of items such as seed tomatoes.

This multiplication of bureaucracies might seem mere late-Gothic decoration, a sort of progressive social scrollwork inscribed around the headworks and concrete-lined canals of the project to refine its outlines and fill in its gaps. But in practice each successive agency's entry is less a means of fine-tuning the existing project and its surroundings to one another than it is the nucleus of fresh irritations and accretions. Thus contract farming has increased pesticide poisonings, which in turn have begotten pesticide-use "trainings" and the arrival of yet more bureaucracies. Meanwhile, the project's original evacuees have long since dispersed. Some ended up in a nikhom, or special planned settlement. The whereabouts of others is unknown (the bureaucratic fiction is that all are being followed up). Among current inhabitants, resentment has precipitated, as resentment will, around certain figures central to current livelihood, who are more likely to be representatives of a company that breaks its agreement to replace defective seed than an engineer in charge of irrigation.

Pak Mun

Still further downstream on the Mekong lies a third example, the egregious Pak Mun dam, completed in 1995 on the lower reaches of the Mun tributary in Ubon Ratchatanee province. The evolution of this project has been so loaded with strife and unexpected twists that it is difficult today to remember, and almost impossible to believe, the purpose for which it was supposedly built: to contribute a meagre 136 megawatts of peak load electricity to the national grid between 6 and 10 pm, which is the only time it operates. In 1995 the dam accounted for less than 0.04 per cent of the electricity generated countrywide.

Early on, the Thai electricity authority behind the plans for the dam had been warned that the blasting and blocking of the river channel would devastate local fisheries. The authority responded by (among other things) proposing that a fish ladder be set up next to the dam. Locals were invited to reimagine the unassuming carp, catfish, snakeheads, and other migratory fauna they knew so well in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role of muscular, leaping Columbia River salmon. The fact that this was known at the time to be fantasy did not stop it from being given expression in reinforced concrete. Though unused by most fish, the ladder served its function well.

Before construction, Pak Mun's backers tallied a total of only 242 local families who would be "affected" adversely by the project -- mainly by being flooded out. By early 1998, after the dam had been completed, the Thai government had been forced by unrelenting protests by local people, including massive sit-ins in front of Government House, to pay out over $30 million in unanticipated compensation to more than 2,500 families for destruction of their fishing-based livelihoods during the three-and-a-half-year construction period alone, with much more to come over the 30- to 50-year lifespan of the dam.

As at Huay Mong, the foreign agency advocating Pak Mun, when faced with local opposition, found itself hard-pressed to present a coherent version of the distinction between technical support and international political meddling which has been one of the ideological supports of large-scale development projects. In 1991, thousands of local residents asked the World Bank's Board of Directors in writing not to intervene against them in what had become a political struggle with the electricity authority by approving more disbursements for the project. The Bank responded that it was not intervening against the villagers, but in their behalf; its continued involvement would push the Thai authorities to make the project more "participatory" than it would otherwise have been. This, they hurried to explain to puzzled listeners, was not political interference, although to cancel disbursements for the project would be.

By now, Pak Mun has assumed a more or less fixed material form in concrete, fences, roads, electric lines and dynamited river bed. Nam Theun 2 is still mostly paper. Yet what both of these names will mean to future generations is still in the making. awaiting the further actions not only of planners and bureaucrats and the obdurate and complicated landscapes which never fail to resist them, but also of thousands of local people and faraway experts and activists, all of whom consider themselves "outside" the development industry.

A Three-Act Play

Trying to find a philosophy behind actually-existing development projects which might be proved wrong, or a single group of interests which might be unmasked, seems, in short, to be rummaging around for a rationality which isn't there. But perhaps this is to look for the wrong kind of rationality. Development is not an abstraction, but it's not too difficult to see in any given assemblage of development projects a sort of archetype, in the form of a recurring dramatic genre that has no name, looming out of the mist. In this genre there is, as with classical tragedy, always something of hubris come to grief; something, too, as many have noted, of Faust; a good deal of the 20th-century comedy of Kafka and Joseph Heller; and more than a touch of absurdism and farce. None of these, however, holds the key to this strange art form, one which is unmistakably human yet specific to contemporary capitalist society with its lumbering dance of giant states and companies.

A first stab at summarizing the framework of this drama might divide it into three acts. Act I opens with the attempt of a small group of protagonists to impose a simple technical fantasy on a complex landscape.5a In Act II, the fantasy (whether or not it has taken physical form yet) encounters inevitable opposition from the peoples, economies, and landscapes in which it is supposed to take shape. Act III -- the climax -- sees attempts to contain this resistance through a profusion of ever more baroque excursions in social engineering, substitution, enclosure, compensation, manipulation and seduction. To take on these unfamiliar tasks, the protagonists may change costume, talk in funny voices and bring new characters on stage, who carry new interests with them. As these last add their own aspirations to the plot, the drama fragments and ramifies, each new fantasy of containment instituting its own subplot of resistance and counter-resistance. Creative incoherence and confusion sets in among protagonists and antagonists alike as the project is driven further and further from its original heroic vision and its opponents struggle to comprehend the growing crowd of the co-opted.

Because the crude fantasies of Act I are both powerful and ambitious, they have effects which reverberate throughout the drama. But because they have little connection with local realities, these effects are never as planners foresee. The history of a development project becomes a rogue vector of antagonistic forces acting under conditions of no one's choosing. Multilateral banks, bilateral aid agencies, Northern hydropower consultancy and construction companies, and investors all hold power, but not the power to bring about what they want.

Yet however little sense the unfolding project -- the condition and excuse for the play -- makes from either village level or from the bird's-eye view of "national economic interest", each actor's part has its own dramatic logic. What drives the action is neither a theoretical dispute nor a struggle between good and evil. Although it is as easy for environmental activists to try to cast themselves in virtuous roles as it is expedient for planners and development consultants to pretend to believe, when under fire, that they are being accused of immorality, still, as any dramatist knows, a mere pantomime of good versus evil, or truth versus untruth, makes for a lousy play. In the drama of development, as in any good drama, the characters adapt to each other, grow, and become progressively more interesting, however deeply opposed their evolving interests remain.

In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

This is why humble Belgian water engineers consulting for Mekong irrigation projects are forced, sooner or later, to buckle on the costume of crusaders for bureaucratic reform; why irrigation officials find themselves slipping into the unfamiliar garb of land reformers; why the character of development itself, over its half-century history, has moved so inexorably from "technical" and "economic" to "institutional", "social" and "sustainable". Only through such transformations can developers cope with the fact -- learned through the grind of daily experience -- that their projects are not just machines to be plugged into ready social outlets but are imposed on a reluctant society which would have to be made over to accommodate them. This is also why, sooner or later, every thoroughly modern dam backer in a multilateral agency will walk on stage in the getup of an expert in participation, democracy, and local knowledge, and why construction-firm magnates chasing dam profits are now strategically and contractually obliged to become patrons of scientific research into environmental impacts and conservation options. Only in this way can dam builders hope to soothe the agitation for self-determination their schemes provoke or to fortify themselves against the possible revenge of local people and the landscapes they occupy. Thus are born the sorts of unlikely scenario which brought Dr Alan Rabinowitz and his World Conservation Society to the defense of Nam Theun 2.

Naturally, in undergoing all this character development, dam builders and their associates expect their fellow dramatis personae to meet them halfway. They are willing under duress to pay some attention to people and trees, but only on condition that the latter submit to some degree of expert manipulation. Fair is fair: if technocrats are to go all green and democratic, then greenery and democracy must become technical. This is why, in the hands of the development establishment, "self-reliance" becomes something to be gained through increased dependence on official institutions and distant markets; why "community forestry" and "common property" become matters for Washington-based banks to plan; and why "facilitating participation" is well on its way to becoming a technical speciality like nuclear physics, out of reach of ordinary slobs. It is also why officials pushed into discussing a project's environmental and social effects learn to welcome the chance to replace that discussion with Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) or Cost-Benefit Analyses (CBAs). Questions may be asked of mega-schemes, and those questions may even be heard, but only if it is generally agreed that, in principle, developers' plans can be made to contain answers to those questions.

The Show Must Go On

Suspicious activists tend to wonder whether all these costume changes and pieces of stage business mean anything. When a dam-builder is forced to adopt a pose of interest in displaced villagers, is it really any more than a not very convincing bit of theatrical cross-dressing? Is the tactic of substituting an EIA or CBA for open discussion anything more than one of those cheap "bed tricks" of Shakespearean comedy, as when Mariana is smuggled into Angelo's darkened boudoir in place of Isabella in Measure for Measure? ("This is not real participation," NGOs sneer when consultants charter a chopper to take questionnaires to a few villagers on the Nakai Plateau. "It's just a charade.") Thus when Finnish industrial forester Rauno Laitalainen, seeking local backing in the early 1990s for a "master plan" for Thai forest development which UNDP had hired him to produce, donned the gown of a bringer of balm to a fractious Thai society and paraded himself in drag, as it were, in front of seminar rooms in Bangkok and Songkhla and Chiang Mai, flouncing up to NGOs with earnest promises of support for community forests and gushing helpful cultural instruction to bemused bureaucrats on the subtleties of "Thai compromise", many thought the pastiche beneath notice, or at best only good for a few laughs. But this is to forget how much a man can learn dressed up as a woman, or vice versa, as anyone who has tried it will testify. Recall Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, got up in high heels, wig and feather boa to escape being recognized by Mob hitmen, exclaiming in fascinated frustration to Tony Curtis as he struggles unsuccessfully to master the Marilyn Monroe hip wiggle: "I'm tellin' you, it's a whole 'nother sex!" Or remember, alternatively, how much Viola learns disguised as Cesario by the time Twelfth Night is over. In his time as a self-appointed mediator among all factions with an interest in Thai forests, one can be certain that Laitalainen and his employers picked up more than just a few wiggles and shimmies.

Even more important is the richness and depth such character changes acquire through the tutelage of institutions ranging from environmental consultancies to institutes of ecological economics, gender awareness programmes, and lobby organizations. Such institutions are often all too happy to build careers and organizations by fleshing out new fantasies of "sustainable hydropower development", "significantly positive Net Present Values", and "gender-sensitive community forestry in reservoir catchments". Nor do these fantasies have any fewer concrete results than the older ones which they embellish. Bureaucracies which make their livings formulating and propagating delusions of "mitigation" trail behind them a spoor of unused fish ladders, chopped-down wildlife sanctuaries and abandoned resettlement sites just as surely as bureaucracies fed on visions of clean, cheap hydropower deposit a residue of eroded land, impoverished rivers, and silted-up reservoirs. Agencies whose business is promoting far-reaching cost-benefit analysis in public policy-making contribute materially to a politics which is not precisely authoritarian and not completely fraudulent, but against which most people subjected to their attentions are likely eventually to chafe.

Developers' characters grow also in tandem with subtle evolutions in cycles of political resistance and reaction. Maintaining a particular border between "technique" and "politics" helps dam-builders and dam-financiers appear effective within a delineated field of expertise (they can blind you with the science of turbine engineering or repayment schedules), yet not responsible for anything that goes wrong with, say, resettlement programmes or watershed deforestation (which is the fault of "politics" or some other area outside their precinct). The persistent failure of dam schemes, however, eventually makes the boundary impossible to patrol. In the end, no one can regard hydropower engineering as "non-political" when dams' physical structures lend themselves so easily to becoming tools of the better-off in the usurpation of resources. As Pauline Peters of the Harvard Institute for International Development observes, development policies

"are not neutral techniques to be employed by governments for planned interventions with the ostensible aim of improving productivity and welfare. They are themselves part and parcel of social and political life and their rationales and practices must be so analyzed."6

In order to save their projects, dam builders are forced into what they had earlier disparaged as "politics". To establish their claims to privileged authority in this risk-ridden area, they are forced to redraw the technique/politics boundary so that professional technique annexes much of what used to be politics. Yet over time, the new boundary proves at least as unstable and impermanent as the old one was. If, as George Bernard Shaw claimed, all professions are a conspiracy against the laity, in this case the conspiracy is both defensive and precarious. Substituting crudely-turned CBAs, EIAs and "participation exercises" for a living politics of controversy, for example, and then, when this runs into difficulties, attempting to adjust that politics to fit the form of these exercises, turns out in the end to be as double-edged a strategy as attempting to impose a simple technical fantasy on a living landscape, and then, when that runs into trouble, trying to adjust that landscape to the fantasy. The development process, like the "science wars" currently raging in the US and Europe, sees a continual fabrication, dissolving and refabrication of technique/politics, fact/value, and nature/artifice distinctions, each of which is ultimately worn away by similar sorts of opposition.

The predicament afflicts institutional actors as much as individual personalities. In the early 1990s, the World Bank, after decades of disclaiming responsibility for failed projects by saying they were the fault of recipient states over which it had no control, finally threw in the towel and openly set itself up as an authority on "good governance" in the Third World. Only in this way could it try do something about the fact that its theories were unimplementable in the actually-existing Third World and at the same time meet head on the observation that its projects were multiplying corruption and authoritarianism. On the one hand this was to abandon, with a nearly audible institutional sigh of relief, nearly all pretence of obeying its founding Charter against interference in client countries' political affairs. Yet to keep a vestige of that pretence alive, and to establish its authority in its "new" field of expertise, the Bank had to make governance into a technical speciality. Governance was now to be strictly "economic", and the Bank's

"concern with accountability, transparency and the rule of law have to do exclusively with the contribution they make to social and economic development and ... sustainable poverty reduction in the developing world" [emphasis added].7

Ah, the developing world. The nice thing about making something into a technique is that it always winds up being applied to you for my ends, not to me for yours.

Thus when ministers in John Major's corrupt regime in Britain, already notorious for their role in the Pergau Dam scandal and numerous cash-for-influence scandals, brought ridicule on themselves by joining in the clamor for "good governance" abroad, they were not just atavistically and unconsciously parodying colonialist theory. They were responding to present history in the only way they knew how. Marx famously amended Hegel in order to observe that important historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice: first as tragedy, then as farce. He could have added that while some are born to farce and some achieve farce, others have farce thrust upon them.

Four Lessons

"I'm dead," laments the protagonist of one of Woody Allen's comedies, speaking to the audience from the other world after having just been killed on a 19th century Russian battlefield following a long Allenesque struggle with military technology and discipline. "But", he goes on brightly, "the point is, have I learned anything?"

Well, big dam projects kill, too, and it is not only the dead who are asking themselves what has been learned from the experience of fighting them. From a campaigner's point of view, a quartet of lessons come to mind:

First, no one can check the flow of untruths which developers espouse and act on merely by exposing their falsity or appealing to historical precedent or common sense. One might as well jump up on stage during an amateur performance of The Tempest to point out to the audience in outraged tones that the island of the play never existed and that Prospero is really just an insurance salesman from Basingstoke dressed up in a wizard suit. By itself, the gesture engages no gears. Just as no one in the theatre believes that on stage a real ship is being wrecked on a real coast, nobody in the theatre of development actually believes that Pak Mun's fish ladder is going to work or that an internationally-backed conservation zone in the Theun watershed is going to save an area already devastated by a giant hydroelectric project.

The anthropologist James Ferguson makes a related point in his study of a development project in Lesotho. Ferguson remarks perceptively that the important thing to notice about the version of Lesotho's history and society presented by development institutions is not just that it is false. It is that it is outlandish -- outlandish, one might add, in a way which does not detract from its intelligence and consummate craft, as a Shakespeare romance is outlandish. Eager to justify its promotion of agricultural markets, for example, the World Bank has claimed that Lesotho, in fact long connected with the market economy, is a "subsistence-oriented society" and that its inhabitants, who in fact derive the crucial part of their income as migrant laborers in South Africa, make a living as "farmers". By the same token, instead of citing the real proportion of GNP contributed by sales of animal products, which is between two and three per cent, the World Bank has invented a figure of 70 per cent.8

Similarly, in Europe and North America, as John O'Neill of Lancaster University notes, environmental economists' last line of defence for placing a monetary value on biodiversity is that "it is part of the policy-making ritual to come up with financial figures even if one does not believe them since they are unbelievable".9 Development consultants seldom imagine that their statements might be judged according to the standards of historical, sociological or scientific truth. Their function and audience lies elsewhere. This is why grassroots activists' irony so often fails in the lobby arena, causing them to turn away in frustration at themselves as much as at the officials they talk to. A riverbank villager who satirizes an impact assessment for a project like Pak Mun at a forum in Bangkok or Washington risks being put in the spoilsport position of Plato, who wanted to banish the playwrights because they didn't tell the truth.

Second, when "in character" in well-paid dramatic roles, it's not to the advantage of development officials and consultants to accumulate any more knowledge than the script endows them with. In a September 1997 letter to World Bank President Jim Wolfensohn, some 15 NGOs from around the world argued exasperatedly that the Bank's support for Nam Theun 2 indicated that it had "learned nothing from its long history of supporting 'development' projects that destroy the natural environment and result in the immiseration of tens of thousands of people". So far, so irrefutable; yet -- as both Wolfensohn and the signatories of the letter understood -- putting it this way was deliberately to misread the development drama as if it were a civil discussion among well-matched participants with reconcilable interests, all bent on reaching a conclusion and then moving on. In fact, of course, demanding to know why the World Bank never learns from experience is a little like asking the actor who plays Oedipus why he never seems to catch on to the fact that the old man he meets at the crossroads in every performance is actually his father, and therefore just goes on stabbing him night after night. Just as one can't stop the actor who portrays Hamlet from mooning around on stage by telling him to get a life, so it's difficult to stop development agencies from emoting about the successes of their previous projects merely by pointing out their effects. Thai officials' offstage acknowledgement of Huay Mong's tribulations cannot prevent them from claiming on stage that it is a good "model" for a future dam project on the nearby Nam Songkhram tributary. Nor has the World Bank's experience with Pak Mun stopped it from making the po-faced assertion that it is a model of participatory forward planning.

Third, the performances of which development agencies' claims are a part are carried out for stakes so high that it's hard for the protagonists to step outside their roles. Stage actors' livelihoods depend in part on acknowledging, even emphasizing, the artifice of their performances. It's no strain for the actor who plays Richard III to point out to the fanzine interviewer that he himself doesn't actually believe in torturing and murdering people he doesn't like. It isn't so easy, however, for a bureau full of development consultants faced with the real-world and often bloody unfolding of a project like Pak Mun to confess even to themselves that they were just kidding about the projected costs or the flood zone area. "In order to be successful," Brian Wynne observes in a detailed study of British nuclear thinking, "every institution must enjoy a capacity for self-delusion".10 Among development institutions, willing suspension of disbelief is a full-time task.

Contrast the minor dramatic art of haggling. Some years ago, before taxi meters were introduced, a Bangkok cabdriver might tell you that he couldn't possibly take you to Thammasat University for less than 100 baht because Road X was one-way, requiring a huge detour. He wouldn't necessarily be seeking to convince (half the time Road X was not, in fact, one-way), but merely putting you on notice that when it came to inventing reasons for charging you a fortune, he was likely to be able to outlast you. If you believed the rubbish he came out with about one-way streets or Sunday morning traffic jams, so much the better, but that was hardly the point. If you told him to get off it he would just smile and invent another reason for overcharging you, filing away the rejected rationale for use on the next sucker.

The development specialist's career depends on a similar ability to bluff. But in this case this hucksterish role not only consorts with but requires a weird, terrifying professionalism. Take the example of the much-hated former World Bank capo Ernest Stern, now with J. P. Morgan on Wall Street. A "first-class intellect", Stern was reportedly famous for "eating his colleagues alive" if they "made a mess of it" by showing up to meetings without having first read all of the relevant documents11 -- an obsessiveness about keeping one's shelf of fictions in order which, it's fair to say, played a part in bringing about some of the biggest "messes" ever made outside of wartime, in the form of disasters such as Narmada. What in the taxi-driver is a circumscribed folk art, a portable comic theatre in the service of an individual livelihood, becomes in the development official a grim, inflexible set of bureaucratized rituals steeped in collective bad faith. When challenged, the taxi-driver can shed his role with a wink and a grin, but the development agency caught out in systematic prevarication can only indulge in mass institutional hysteria, a Gradgrind-like incantation of meaningless numbers -- or a version of the convoluted exercises in displacement of the problem which inaugurate Act III of the development drama.

This is one reason why it is fatuous for activists to spend an excessive amount of time making nice distinctions among the development agency officials whom they lobby -- finding out who will "listen", who "can be trusted", who is "one of the better ones", who is "trying to do some good", who "must be cultivated". This is not only to confuse personal qualities with institutional role, but also to mistake the whole nature of the development drama. If, as the anthropologist Mary Douglas remarks, we let institutions do the important thinking for us,12 a more important priority is to choose our institutions. Pondering the "morality" or "sincerity" of individuals may be in order if one has to get around town every day and wants to make a permanent arrangement with a single taxi driver. The World Bank and its sister agencies, on the other hand, must be studied as institutions.

Fourth, anyone expressing concern about a big dam project will be written into the development drama whether they like it or not. If you're an intellectual involved in a dam controversy, then as sure as the sun rises every morning, sooner or later the eyes of a consultant, official or journalist will, perhaps fatally, meet yours across a crowded room. As of 1998, the ensuing conversation will eventually swing around to four or five questions: "If you're so opposed to this project, what are the alternatives?" "What is lacking in the project that would make it acceptable to you?" "As an advocate of local people, what is your position?" "How can we improve participation in the project?" "If the project goes forward, how can we control the damage and improve the process?" Then, as surely as Romeo falls for Juliet, the phone will ring and a young person from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, or somewhere, will start requesting your help in pitching a "big tent" under which all the "stakeholders" -- who somehow always include the World Bank, UNDP, several scientific institutions and a large number of European men in suits -- can get together and earnestly thrash out what has to be done in the Mekong basin (or wherever). "Everybody's got to get involved," the friendly yet insistent voice will come over the line. "It would be a real mistake to start grandstanding over principles and exclude yourself and the organizations you work with from a chance to exercise influence over the plans for the region, which are going forward in any case." From then on, the push will be on to get you to contribute your own fantasies ("alternatives", "positions"); to help in social engineering (fill "lacks" in the project under consideration and promote "participation"); and generally to become one of the leading dramatis personae ("advocate of local people") in the development script.

More than one seasoned Western activist has quickly got lost in this thicket. Some activists, for example, have succumbed to the temptation to demand that a development bank "promote participation" in some project or other in hopes that this will check its tendency to impose locally-inappropriate schemes on unwilling villagers. This, of course, is to identify a "gap" which the institution then gleefully fills with self-serving fantasies involving helicopter surveys and supervised "public hearings". The result is often a delightful scenario for the development bank in which (a) the bank's "participation" work is legitimized for industrialized-country audiences by the activist; (b) the activist has to share the brunt of the justified charges of imperialism which inevitably issue from resentful local officials, cutting off his or her usefulness to villagers at the grassroots ("consultation is great," says one necessarily anonymous Lao dam opponent, "but everybody knows it isn't allowed in Laos. If the Bank wants to create a model of public consultation, why start here?"13); and (c) the local officials, in turn, are available to be blamed for obstructionism by the development bank when the "participation" exercises, as in the case of Nam Theun 2, turn out to be a sham, comfortably confirming the bank's claim that "we are trying but cannot be held responsible".

Other activists, meanwhile, have wound up helping development institutions refine their EIAs or CBAs by commissioning critiques of early drafts. Still others have lost perspective entirely, exploding with outrage when fellow activists fail to obey the rules of etiquette laid down by development institutions or neglect to step in to prevent favorite institutional snitches from accidentally criticizing destructive projects in public. And nearly everyone, perhaps unavoidably, allows the ever-shifting bureaucratic slogans of social engineering -- "advocacy", "alternatives", "aperture", "participation", "empowerment", and, it must be admitted, "development" -- to etch new, serf-like habits of perception and response into their own behaviour.

Trying to avoid such traps, many tougher-minded activists refuse outright to become employment counselors or consultants for dam-builders, stoutly maintaining that it isn't their job to spin out still more whimsies for the development industry to chew on in response to the question "what's your alternative?" All the same, they too are assigned parts in the drama, if only default roles as assistant villains helping to define the conditions that make necessary the social engineering fantasies which the heroes of development elaborate in Act III. Russian thinker Boris Kagarlitsky recently wrote half-ironically that "it might be said that the main historical achievement of our revolution was the reform of capitalism in the West".14 His point was that it was largely the seemingly sturdy, threatening model of Soviet-style socialism lurking in the background that helped keep Westerners' efforts to adjust their own system on the boil. In those dark moments before one remembers that big, damaging hydroelectric projects are on their way out worldwide, it sometimes seems as if the fate of the strongest opponents of some dams may simply be unwillingly to complicate them.

"Fuck this shit, I'm going to work with the villagers" is one normal activist response to such reflections. Alas, no refuge from the invasive mise-en-scène of development is likely to be found in the fabled "local community", either. An activist stepping off the bus in a remote hamlet downstream of a proposed dam will usually find clean-cut individuals with clipboards already there, squatting in the village head's house and busily signing up willing or unwilling locals for bit parts in the development drama -- as "respondents", "beneficiaries", "affected people", "indigenous groups" and so forth. Even in such a quotidian arena, amid the water buffaloes and fishtrap-laden river banks, what may seem everyday, independent truths spoken by fisherfolk or shopkeepers are constantly being processed by developers and returned to the speakers in another form. A local boat-owner's observation today that people along the Mekong eat fish is almost sure to find its way into the dialogue of the development play tomorrow -- not because it is true, but because it hints at a foundation for resistance to dams. Village life cannot be abstracted from its surroundings any more than development itself can. It may be time to pass beyond what Ferguson calls the "stultifying" question of whether development is either a "benevolent force to be reformed or an exploitative manoeuvre to be denounced". As Peters and others have stressed, it is a domain, like colonialism, which deserves more subtle analysis.

Storming the Reality Studio

It would be wrong, however, to look at opposition to Mekong dams merely as an event within the development drama, a sort of unruly Other to the well-ordered but impossible fantasies of its protagonists. Ubiquitous as that drama is, other sorts of performances are also always in progress, and in the very same smoky, crowded theatre: discussions and movements occupied with local agendas and debates and narratives with river-dwelling villagers for their protagonists. Moreover, just as every action of villagers and activists forms a part of the development drama, so all aspects of that drama -- the bankers, the engineering firms, the EIAs and CBAs -- are also parts of these other performances. Like one of those fabulous bricolaged sentences of Dickens which contains ripoffs of the dialects of politicians, lawyers, socialites, and scientists in addition to the speech of the author,15 any claim made by any side in debates over dams turns out to contain simulacra of the languages of the other sides.

A seminar in Bangkok last December gave a fragmentary glimpse of this multiple theatre of power. Academics and officials who had been charged to come up with a plan to prevent or mitigate adverse impacts of a proposed dam project on the seasonally-flooded Nam Songkhram tributary of the Mekong were invited to Chulalongkorn University to set out their provisional conclusions for discussion before an audience of academics, villagers and activists. In accordance with official policies of "openness" forced by recent democracy movements, the protagonists abjured any claims to awful power or pomp, instead putting on a show of receptiveness to public opinion. During the first quarter of the seminar, representatives of the Department of Energy Development and Promotion, which is responsible for the Nam Songkhram project, held the floor in easy, confident style, together with the academics it had hired. Officials and lecturers took turns explaining how this flood-control, dry-season irrigation project had been studied and restudied over the years as its specifications changed, following recommendations from the National Environment Board, from a project with a high-water level of 143.5 to one with a level of 139.5 metres above sea level; and how, given the necessity for compensation to the public for any damages that might result, it was necessary to discuss the project in advance with those who were to be affected. "If we know the project is useful," said one, it is necessary to figure out "how to get them to agree". In the meantime the audience played the role of complaisant listeners who believed that what they were hearing constituted respectable research and planning, in line with Borges's classic definition of the actor, who "on a stage plays at being another before a gathering of people who play at taking him for that other person16".

As the day wore on, however, some of the participants' boredom with the performance began to show. Polite questions were succeeded by pointed observations of factual error. These observations then shaded into the sort of insinuation that can't be held in the mind for any length of time either by a character in a play or by its audience: that the whole thing was a charade. Instead of treating the academics' findings as a substitute for genuine debate, as the script called for, the listeners had the effrontery to begin to treat them as a pretext for a real one. Instead of suspending disbelief during the performance on offer, they began to discuss the agenda behind its multiple falsehoods.

Thus after Wanpen Wirotnakut of Khon Kaen University asserted blandly that the archaeological effects of the proposed project were "zero", since only six ancient sites of cultural interest were in the vicinity, all of which were above the flood line, Srisakara Vallibhotama, a prominent anthropologist who had done the research Wanpen was citing, could hold his peace no longer. Pronouncing himself "shocked", Srisakara pointed out that the true figure was 90 sites, and that all 90 would be submerged. But Wanpen's fictional numbers, he went on with rising pique, "were not the important thing:"

"Why is the person who did the original report not presenting these results? It makes me think that the decision about Nam Songkhram has already long been made, right? You have to bring in this data to support the decision, right? So it's not transparent. Beware! You might not be able to do this. With the new Constitution, the people have the right to oppose the state. It's not for the state to come and make excuses.... I study archaeology as the relationship between humans and environment. Archaeology is life and culture. The point is to study it from within. Do you see? Nam Songkhram and other dam projects are impositions from outside, led by the state... . This is to look down on local people."17

Encouraged by this example, others leapt in. Chaovalit Witayanon, an expert on the diverse Nam Songkhram fisheries from which locals derive two-thirds of their income, noted that while the project's EIA advanced the "sloppy" claim that none of the local fish studied were migratory, the truth is that nearly all are. The EIA's notion that if any migratory fish species were later found to have been eliminated, then they could be bred and released into the post-project water system, was, Chaovalit continued, "absolutely uninformed by any scientific thought process or research". Prasat Tongsiri, president of the chamber of commerce in the provincial town nearest the proposed dam, observed that another project of similar type built 30 years ago had wiped out fish populations and exacerbated local conflict and wondered out loud why this history seemed to have held no lessons for the present study team. A provincial teachers college instructor, Ekachai Khasawong, cross-examined Dr Boonyoke Wannthanupoot, a corporate consultant, who had assured the listeners that fish catches "should not be altered" by the project because its gates would be opened to the surge of the Mekong in May. When Ekachai pointed out that the fish needed to migrate into the Songkhram river from the Mekong in March and April as well, Dr Boonyoke temporized: "The details will have to be discussed further after construction. This is only the study period." Other participants interrupted speakers to point out that while no plans were being made to compensate villagers for either lost fisheries or lost land, and the project planners had claimed the dam would not force floodwaters over the banks of the river, it was nevertheless admitted that 1600 hectares of seasonally-flooded forest would be permanently inundated. Moreover, the crude 1:50,000 maps the planners were working with made the drawing of high-water marks in this flat landscape wholly speculative.

Summing up succinctly, Ekachai and other representatives from the locality observed that the Nam Songkhram dam was a project with momentum but no rationale. Land at the headworks site had already been bought in anticipation of approval, but even with -- or perhaps because of -- decades of studies and modifications, no one could explain any more why it should be built. Irrigation? The National Environment Board had already said that this objective was inappropriate for the revised project. Flood control? The current level of the proposed dam was already below the annual high-water mark. Fishery promotion? Experts were in agreement that they would be devastated, not improved. Tourism? Who would come to see an area whose riverine forest had been permanently flooded, together with much of its biodiversity? Vested interests including political parties, quarrying interests and bureaucracies were the main parties pressing for construction, Ekachai and other local residents concluded.

Riot in the Theatre of Development

How do actors in a drama handle this sort of unexpected outburst from an audience? One path is to ignore it; another to shrug it off as philistinism; another to treat it with the bewildered indulgence one accords the lunatic who leaps up on stage to denounce The Tempest as a pack of lies. "Of course there are some falsehoods here," goes the unspoken subtext. "We know that. It's our duty to provide them. The show must go on. Why are you making such a fuss?" But when the complicity of the audience is waning and even the coherence of the script is in doubt, other measures must be called into play. Staying in character, defter dramatic performers treat listeners' dissatisfaction as an occasion for virtuoso ad libs, in order to incorporate it into the play itself.

Thus the beleaguered heroes of the December performance at Chulalongkorn did their best to recaptivate a restless audience by accounting for fanciful figures and impossible contradictions by even more fantastical explanations on the order of "the dog ate my homework". When Witoon Permpongsacharoen of TERRA, an independent organization monitoring Mekong developments, pointed out that the mitigation report under discussion appeared to have smuggled in figures for internal rates of return from previous versions of the project, resulting in inconsistent figures (on page 23 the internal rate of return was given as 11.87 per cent, on page 65 as 12.8 per cent; the project's Net Present Value was given in different places as both 21.94 and -57.19 million baht), the reply was that page 23 had been removed from the "final draft" and had only mistakenly been left in Witoon's copy. When the plausibility of this was challenged it was implied that Witoon had obtained his copy through unauthorized means, or perhaps forged it.

The ripples of derision which greeted these sallies, however, signaled that the audience was finding the actors' improvisational skills as charmless as the script itself. Piling fantasy on fantasy couldn't cover the implicit uproar beginning to fill the hall. Not only were the spectators impatient; it began to look as if they had shown up at the theatre for an entirely different kind of performance: one in which the difference between truth and fraudulence mattered, in which belief and disbelief were relevant, learning possible, debate real, rationalism corrosive and cleansing, and the fate of the heroes of development of no greater importance than anyone else's. The struggle was not about whether what the experts said was true or false, but about which genre of performance would prevail. Would the audience be able assert a different treatment of the theme, the action, the characters themselves? Just as the listeners had shown themselves capable of switching between their Borgesian role and an entirely new one, so the impact mitigation study team suddenly began to appear not only as all-too-human members of an embattled middle class trying to make ends meet through thespian hack-work, but also -- and at the same time -- as mendacious fraudsters ("hired academic guns" in Srisakara's smouldering phrase) conniving in the robbery of other peoples' livelihoods. Struggling to keep the play going, they increasingly had to step out of character to throw back the tomatoes and rotten eggs now being lobbed over the footlights.

In the circumstances, striding up to the stage apron in order to try to shout out an explicit defence of the play would have been as much as to admit things were out of control. Actors are not symposiasts. Who could defend The Tempest as a treatise on the geography of Bermuda in the face of a hooting, literal-minded mob? Riot was about to break out in the development theatre, and in a type of confusion which surely predates the postmodern era by centuries, the actors seemed momentarily unsure whether to try to continue the play or wade into the audience for an all-house duke-out.

With the assistance of the moderator, Chanthana Banphasirichote of the university's Institute for Social Research, some equilibrium was restored. The development drama, though now somewhat ragged, was allowed to resume its course. Recovering his face together with his place in the script, the senior representative of the Department of Power Development and Promotion present reiterated that he would submit to his chief all the helpful "views" and "suggestions" that had been received. Again taking up their roles in the play, many villagers who had traveled from upcountry to the meeting took care to deposit additional "observations" and "questions" in his basket.

But out of the confusion had emerged an additional performance which was now proceeding along a parallel track. It was now possible to say new things, to examine publically the whole development drama from the outside, to "contain" it just as it strives to "contain" everything else. Witoon, for example, took the microphone to propose that, drawing a lesson from the debacle that had just occurred, the Department of Power Development Promotion simply give up trying to invent new visions for a Nam Songkhram dam -- or any other irrigation-cum-power projects. Having been given its head in the irrigation field by the Democrat Party for its own ends, the Department had got itself into an institutional rut promoting comprehensive, abstract engineering projects which, when brought face to face with social reality, had to be modified so thoroughly that they no longer had any coherent rationale, in spite of years of studies and revised plans costing millions of baht. Why not start all over again and take up energy conservation or some other type of future that would not lead to such endless contradictions? If the Department had sufficient daring, the site at Nam Songkhram which had been purchased so prematurely could even be converted to a solar energy experimental station or a fishery development centre.

Turning his back on Nam Songkhram entirely for the moment in order to explore an even wider theme, Srisuwan Kuankachorn of the Project for Ecological Recovery meanwhile opened a conversation with Wipada Apinan of the Environmental Policy and Planning Office. Concerned at the extent to which EIAs had become mere tools in legitimizing decisions made on engineering and economic grounds, Srisuwan asked Wipada whether it would be possible for state environmental agencies to press for a policy of not approving environmentally-inadequate projects no matter how highly they were rated in engineering and economic terms. Out of 200 EIAs he had studied, he noted, only one had recommended that the project in question not be built, and all were of worrisomely low quality.

And so the meeting ended inconclusively, as most such meetings do. The episode may not mean much to the overall course of development along the Nam Songkhram, or the Mekong. But the clash of fields of force connected with different genres of performance which it exemplified is not something politically-minded activists in the region or elsewhere can ignore. The authors and heroes of the development drama have been given repeated opportunities to indulge a wonderful and terrible capacity to turn truth into fantasy. If the biographies of other playwrights and actors are any guide, that capacity is unlikely to be restrained just by giving them more truth and more life to work on. A better hope lies in challenging development's performances from without even as its precarious dynamic of dreaming is toppled from within.

Notes and references

1 White, Wayne C., Review of Economic Impact Study: Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project, Foresight Associates, Winchester, MA, USA, 5 September 1997.

2 SEATEC International Ltd., Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project Environmental Assessment and Management Plan, draft May 1997, p. 3-29.

3 Financial Times (London), 15 May 1996.

4 The Economist, 30 August 1997.

5 Thailand Royal Irrigation Department, "Nam Oon Operation and Maintenance Project", Sakon Nakhon, n.d.

5a See James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998 for an elaboration of the sense of "simplicity" used here.

6 Peters, Pauline E., Dividing the Commons: Politics, Policy and Culture in Botswana, Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1994, p. 226.

7 World Bank, Governance: The World Bank's Experience, Washington: World Bank, 1994, p.vii.

8 Ferguson, James, The Anti-Politics Machine: "Development", Depoliticization and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

9 O'Neill, John, "Managing without Prices: The Monetary Valuation of Biodiversity", Ambio 26 (8), December 1997, p. 549.

10 Wynne, Brian, Rationality and Ritual: The Windscale Inquiry and Nuclear Decisions in Britain, Chalfont St Giles: The British Society for the History of Science, 1982, p. 176.

11 Thomson, Richard, "Principal Lender to the Poor", Independent on Sunday, 20 June 1993.

12 Douglas, Mary, How Institutions Think, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986, p. 111.

13 Wall Street Journal, 12 August 1997.

14 Kagarlitsky, Boris, "The Unfinished Revolution", New Left Review 226, November/December 1997, pp. 157-58.

15 Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981, pp. 294-307.

16 Borges, Jorge Luis, Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby, New York: New Directions, 1964, p. 248.

17 All quotations are translated by the author from Project for Ecological Recovery's transcription of tapes from the Academic Seminar on Development Projects and Environmental Effects: The Case of the Nam Songkhram Project, Chulalongkorn University, 25 December 1997.


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