Hydropower in Cambodia : Competing discursive story-lines of a contested development path

University essay from Lunds universitet/Centrum för öst- och sydöstasienstudier

Abstract: This thesis uses discourse to analyze how different story-lines of hydropower development in the Mekong River Basin reproduce the concept of sustainable development. With actors advocating sometimes diametrically opposite development paths resulting in different social, economic and environmental trade-offs they all refer to and motivate their agendas in terms of sustainable development. I applied a qualitative approach facilitated through semi-structured interviews to engage multiple actors in the discourses of hydropower. Using the concepts of story-lines, discursive elements and discursive closure I investigate three tracks in the debate on hydropower development pertaining to Cambodia’s downstream position on the Mekong River. By problematizing the concept of sustainable development in regard to hydropower, the thesis demonstrates how its ambiguity can propel debate and I argue that the concept’s vagueness is to be seen a potential strength rather than a weakness. The thesis found that strong hydropower proponents tend to emphasis economic aspects of sustainable development succeeded by the environmental and social. Opponents on the other hand demonstrated a reversed tendency while a middle-track expresses difficulties in connecting the two extremes.

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