Reconfiguring scale and power: the Khong-Chi-Mun project in northeast Thailand
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Environment and Planning A 2003, volume 35, pages 2229 ^ 2250 DOI:10.1068/a35299 Reconfiguring scale and power: the Khong-Chi-Mun project in northeast Thailand Chris Sneddon Department of Geography/Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth College, 6107 Fairchild, Hanover, NH 03755-6017, USA; e-mail: Christopher.S.Sneddon@Dartmouth.Edu Received 18 November 2002; in revised form 20 May 2003 Abstract. This paper uses the case of the Khong-Chi-Mun (KCM) interbasin transfer project in northeast Thailand to explore questions of power and scale in the context of state intervention in river basins. The KCM project figures strongly in the Thai state's long-term aim of transforming its water-poor northeast region through large-scale irrigation works and agroindustrial development. The project has also become a key element in interstate negotiations over coordinated development of the Lower Mekong Basin. The early stages of the project have met with resistance in the form of both national and local Thai social movements arguing against it on social justice and ecological grounds. Proponents of the project in the Thai government are employing different scalar narratives to justify and legitimate implementation of the scheme. Scale and power are intimately related within complex environmental conflicts, and tracing their linkages through an array of actors and across a variety of scales, the approach associated with actor-network methodologies, can reveal a great deal about how power and scale are co-created. 1 Power, scale, and environmental conflicts At a seminar held on 11 April 1997, the then Prime Minister of Thailand Chavalit Yongchaiyudh declared his full support for the Khong-Chi-Mun (KCM) scheme (its name reflects the conjoining of the Mekong, Chi and Mun river systems through canals and weirs), opining that the project was the only way to ensure sufficient supplies of water for the long-suffering farmers of the northeast.(1) The seminar, held at the regional `growth pole' of Khon Kaen's deluxe five-star hotel, was stuffed with project supporters, consisting largely of phuu yai baan (village heads) and kamnan (district chiefs) from throughout the northeast with strong propensities towards favoring the project. The KCM project, promised Chavalit, would fulfill the long-held dream of Thai politicians and development planners to `turn the northeast green'. The loose coalition of community groups, Thai and international environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and academics voicing concerns about the project's social and ecological ramificationsöa coalition decidedly not invited to the seminaröwere, according to project advocates, misinformed at best, or working for anti-Thai `dark forces' at worst. The seminar itself felt more like a political rally than anything else, with indigenous Isaan (northeast Thailand) music providing the background to carefully orchestrated video presentations of the unequivocal benefits that water from the Mekong would bring to arid northeast soils. By the late 1990s the KCM project had enrolled the highest office of the Thai government, the heads of the relevant development agencies appointed by the prime minister, as well as the countless local officials who whole- heartedly gave their allegiance to the project. It had also enrolled and reconfigured nonhuman entities, including an array of landscapes, watercourses, aquatic ecosystems, irrigation canals, and weirs extending throughout northeast Thailand, in significant ways. (1) The central socioecological problem for a majority of northeast Thailand's human residents revolves around ``Low and erratic rainfall, nutrient-poor soils with low moisture-retention capability, and restricted availability of surface water supplies'' combined with ``remoteness from markets, cultural isolation, poor communications, and general insecurity'' (Rambo, 1991, page 13).
2230 C Sneddon A careful reading of these enrollments and reconfigurations can, I argue, open up distinct methods for exploring how the politics of scale in the context of intractable environmental conflicts are crucially dependent on the manner in which human ^ nonhuman networks compose and promulgate power effects. The concept of geographical (or spatial) scale is inundated with a diversity of interpretations and confusions. The assorted words typically connoted as spatial scale (for example, local, regional, national, global) are understood simultaneously as narra- tive strategies, as sites of multiple political struggles, and as crucial variables in the working and reworking of economic and political processes. A recent and expanding set of debates within human geography has raised questions about scale's epistemological and methodological standing, and in which directions revamped theoretical projects concerning the `politics' and `production' of scale should proceed (Brenner, 2001; Marston, 2000; Marston and Smith, 2001). Despite these strides, there is still ample evidence for seconding Howitt's (2002, page 299) assessment: ``Scale remains poorly understood, carelessly applied and surprisingly chaotic.'' Scale denotes everyday under- standings that tend to gloss over the multiplicity of ways in which terms like `local', `regional', and `global' are discussed and applied. This applies to environmental politics as well, where both academic work and actual practice tend to `fix' environmental conflicts at particular geographical scales to the neglect of how broader, less scale-dependent strategies might open up innovative paths of analysis and resistance. Like scale, the notion of power carries with it odd and confusing baggage, and nowhere is this better displayed than in its current deployments within environmental politics. Power, depending on one's perspective, is something that states hold by virtue of their prerogative to commit violence in the name of development; that corporations exercise on a global scale; and that social movements need to generate in order to have any chance at successfully opposing the dominating tendencies of these same states and corporations. In academic spheres, power is the source of multiple fault lines, bringing to the table political theorists, sociologists of knowledge, and social scientists of several stripes. And yet, it perhaps remains ``The scandal of social science _ that it has so far failed to arrive at a satisfactory understanding of power'' (Ball, 1992, page 14). Such an oversight is particularly egregious given the likelihood that ``Any attempt to account for human reality seems to call for an understanding of the nature of power'' (Tuan, 1984, page 1). And such an understanding is crucial to those political actors seeking to rearrange power relationships in the service of, for example, enhanced ecological integrity and sustainable livelihoods. In this paper I seek to identify linkages between the two obstinate concepts of scale and power through an empirical account of the KCM interbasin transfer project, an ongoing attempt to reconfigure a considerable portion of the Mekong River basin and in so doing radically transform the ways in which several million human beings of the basin intermingle their livelihoods with `natural' phenomena. I argue the case that the KCM project makes necessary, or at least lends itself to, a parallel reconfiguration of how we think about notions such as power and scale, ideas that have until quite recently enjoyed a sort of commonsensical credenceöif not among social scientists then certainly among policymakers and assorted political actorsöthat seriously underestimates their com- plexity. An additional aim is to make a modest contribution to a nascent literature on water ^ society relations (see Sneddon et al, 2002) that takes account of the complex sets of discourses and practices, which define these relations in specific times and places. As Swyngedouw (1997a, page 312) notes, ``the circulation of water is embedded in social power relations''. The manipulation of water through large-scale interbasin transfer projects brings to light not only the linkages between water and circuits of state power, but also how the economic and political processes that reconfigure river basinsöboth
Reconfiguring scale and power 2231 on the drawing board and in the irrigation trenchesöconstantly rework the politics of scale through the extension and contraction of networks of humans and nonhumans. Conceptually, I hope to accomplish three things: to get the ball rolling, however slowly, on the difficult question of how actor-network approaches and affiliated method- ologies use power and scale to explore dense technoscientific and environmental controversies; to apply these insights in a way that initiates a conversation between power and scale in the context of water conflicts and the transformation of river basins; and to tease out the ways in which all this might matter to analyses and political stances directed towards water ^ society relations. Part of my goal is to ask what is the usefulness of actor-network approaches when the networks themselves are maddeningly complex and lousy with intersections among multiple networks? The applicability of an actor-network approach is arguably clearer when an environmental conflictöif the focus of the work does indeed fall within this rubricöis delimited by fairly specific sets of human and nonhuman agents as in Callon's (1986) seminal account of aquatic biologists, shellfish traps, fisherfolk, and scallops; yet what are we to do when the technologies and nonhuman entities themselves extend massive dis- tances in time (since their development) and space (spanning political territories)? When resource users and their associated diversity of identities and collectivities number in the millions? When the nonhuman entities include water and a host of aquatic organisms whose own associations (that is, their physical, biological, and ecological dynamics) are poorly understood and ill defined? And what happens when actor net- works contract, leading to the development of different `nodes' of environmental conflict? In the spirit of Callon's (1986) work, my aim is to allow the particular actor-network, and particular analytical framework, to emerge from the case at hand. I proceed to explore the hoary concepts of power and scale, respectively, in the following two sections, drawing primarily from actor-network `approaches' öLatour (1999) suggests that the `theory' label is no longer adequate öbut also attending to emerging insights from other disciplinary sites, such as recent human-geographical work on the social/political construction of scale. Accounts of a politics of scale, I contend, must incorporate an incisive understanding of power. Next comes an account of the Thai state's on-going program to implement fully what is in effect a five-decade project involving a massive transfer of water. This section also addresses the case's methodological groundings in an actor-network approach. The conclusion returns to what the case of the KCM project, interpreted through novel conceptions of scale and power, might reveal about the need to reconfigure such concepts, and the implications of actor-network approaches for analytical and political projects aimed at improving human ^ environment interrelations. 2 Power as composition and effect This is not the place for an all-inclusive treatise on the concept of power. The past fifteen years are evidence that such tacks are well underway, and are diverse and deepening in their ability to uncover more nuanced perspectives on power (see Clegg, 1989; Hindess, 1996; Law, 1986; 1991; Sharp et al 2000a; Wartenberg, 1992). Several recent treatises on power by human geographers underscore widening concern with this unwieldy concept (Agnew 1999; Allen, 1999; Radcliffe, 1999). There is growing awareness that one simple word can hardly capture the diversity of what `power', `power relations', and `power effects' imply. For example, Ball (1992) notes three paths through which notions of power have evolved: communicative (the ability to persuade); realist notions of power (where individual's power can be read off of their social identities);
2232 C Sneddon and a deconstructionist understanding of power indebted to Foucault.(2) Also following Foucault's writings, Sharp et al (2000b) distinguish among forces, practices, pro- cesses, and relations of power, all of which open up fruitful lines of investigation. Within geography and associated disciplines, authors have explicated the workings of power within the context of theories of resistance and resistance politics (Rose, 2002), state theory, and `regionalism' (Jones, 2001), the intersections between radical eco- nomic geography and postmodern thought (Lee, 2000), and theories of geopolitical relations and democracy (Slater, 1997; 2002). Although no shortage of reflections on power and its multiple forms is evident, there remains a strange silence in a majority of this literature. Questions of ecology and the naturalöor the nonhumanöare infrequently broached, if at all. In an otherwise comprehensive and insightful examination of the multiple characteristics of power as action/discourse, Sharp et al (2000b) apparently have little to say about the additional entanglements created when `nature' and `environment' are thrown into the mix. Even the early actor-network texts (for example, Law, 1986; 1991) are overwhelmingly concerned with dissolving the divisions between social and technological realms rather than with addressing nonhumans beyond human-constructed artifacts. A similar critique can be leveled at Foucault, who demonstrates little interest in the nonhuman sphere beyond the technological and `socially produced'. However, recent efforts to recover an `ecological' Foucault (Darier, 1999) and to examine the ecological implications of governmentality (Luke, 1995; 1999) highlight the need to insert a nonhuman perspective into his seminal accounts of power and society. I contend that it is possible for an actor-network approach to include more complex ecological entities in its accounts of power relations and power effects, and that such a course, while certainly pointing out some of the inherent difficulties of actor-network methodologies, provides a useful frame for interpreting environmental conflicts involv- ing multiple actors linked to multiple scales of interaction. Building on the work of Latour, recent applications of the actor-network frame in human geography have initiated precisely this sort of conversation. For Latour (1986), the key to understand- ing power relationships is that an `act' of power is far more contingent on the `actions of others' than on the individual or group who is typically seen as `having' power. Building on Latour, Murdoch and Marsden (1995, page 372) aver that ``Power is a `composition' made by many people but attributed to one of them. The amount of power exercised is not related to how much someone `has' but to the number of actors involved in its composition. So power is an outcome of collective action. Therefore, to `explain' power (and trace power geometry) we need to examine how collective action comes about, or how actors become associated, and how they work in unison'' (emphasis in original). Power is associational, but it is not enough simply to describe the evolution of collective action. As Law (1991, page 18) reflects, for power to materialize, the question of maintaining certain relations must also be addressed: (2) Although the challenging world of Foucauldian accounts of power is beyond the scope of this work, his writings stress the temporally contingent character of what we call `power' and the need to carry out detailed historical investigations of the pathways through which power operates and diffuses. As a result, Foucault's metaphors of power, domination, and resistance (for example, `biopower', `pastoral power', `panopticon', `discipline', `capillaries') are diverse and are tightly linked to specific historical, geographical and institutional developments in the ongoing interplay among governments, cultures, economies, and technologies. See Hindess (1996, pages 96 ^ 136) for a useful exegesis.
Reconfiguring scale and power 2233 ``No one, no thing, no class, no gender can `have power' unless a set of relations is constituted and held in place: a set of relations that distinguishes between this and that (distribution), and then goes on to regulate the relations between this and that.'' How might such a conceptualization of power be applied to the case of complex water manipulations in the Mekong basin and northeast Thailand? I suggest that the KCM interbasin transfer project can be analyzed as both an association of human and nonhuman agents (`actants' in Latour's vocabulary) and that it can also be read as a `power effect', a set of relations that must be maintained in order for a set of dominant actors (in this case certain Thai state agencies) to achieve their ends. Perhaps more than anything, the central power effect of the KCM project, or KCM `collective' as I will later call it, is the enrollment of a massive river basin (the Mekong) into its orbit of influence.(3) But in order to see this enrollment taking shape, it is crucial to examine the historical antecedents of the KCM and the manner in which the envisioning of the KCM project evolved over time. To accomplish this, however, it is first necessary to clarify how scale might be considered within an actor-network frame. 3 The symmetrical construction of scale As Eden et al (2000) describe in a recent article, nature and society are given distinct ontological status through a process that Latour (1993) describes as purification. Latour and other proponents of actor-network methodologies instead advocate the metaphor of translation, which connotes a blending and hybridization of the human and nonhuman. Such investigations are deemed symmetrical because it is possible to ``trace how differences [between human and nonhuman actors] are produced through translation without categorical prejudice nor a priori causal power'' (Eden et al, 2000, page 268). There is thus nothing inherent to the categories human and nonhuman that keeps them separate, but by tracing the relations of actors enmeshed in a network, one can begin to tease out how differences are created, maintained, and reformulated. This is the essence of symmetrical investigation. Yet how might we symmetrically approach questions of scale? One way forward may be to examine the ways in which scale as an object of study is approached, first, by those concerned with ecologically constructed scales (for example, ecological scientists) and, second, by those concerned with socially produced scales (for example, human geographers of various persuasions). One important way in which debates over scale are dissimilar from debates over power is the attention directed to the first concept by ecological scientists. Whether focused on ecological systems, populations, river systems, or landscapes, ecologists are increasingly sensitive to the conceptual difference between scale (as a measurable physical quantity) and level (the category of a thing) (Allen, 1998). Social scientists may not necessarily be as aware of such semantic differences, in part because they are more concerned with how certain `commonsense' scales (for example, the region, the nation) are socially (and politically) produced and become part of the discursive strategies of social actors (Cox, 1997; Jones, 1997; Smith, 1996; Swyngedouw, 1997b; 2000). Recognition that scale is socially constructed represents a welcome and insightful intervention into previous accounts of spatial scale. In particular, work on the political construction of scale (see Delaney and Leitner, 1997) has illuminated the processes through which `scalar narratives' (Swyngedouw, 1997b, page 140) are continuously employed by a range of human actors to assert their positions and, in effect, their representations of means and ends. In a similar vein, talking in terms of the `local' or (3) For similar claims regarding the applicability of actor-network analyses to rivers and aquatic environments, see Burgess et al (2000), Eden et al (2000), and Kortelainen (1999).
2234 C Sneddon `global' should be understood as a political strategy, as a way of representing the goals and desires of different actors. Scale in this sense is a frame of understanding. When we say `local' or `regional', there is a common understanding (usually) among those to whom these labels are directed. Scale used in this way is also an expression of power and knowledge, and can cut multiple ways. Individuals and collectivities, through political struggles, discourses, and other diverse practices, produce a variety of `scales' (for example, community) that in turn become strongly associated with those specific processes and social relations that led to their production. In short, scale is an epistemological entity rather than an ontological one (Jones, 1997). Despite these advances in our understanding of socially produced scales, human geographers have given insufficient attention to ecological accounts of scale (emanating from the accounts of ecological scientists' concerns with, for example, hierarchy theory, or landscape ecology) and to the participation of nonhumans in the construction of social scales. Spatial scales are also produced through ecological means, and never solely through social processes and discourses. Ecologist Pohl-Wostl (1998) describes this `ecological construction' of scales in terms of the ``spatiotemporal organization of ecological networks'', noting that the multiple dynamic processes apparent in ecosys- tems ``continuously generate and relax tension on a continuum of scales'' (page 147). One way of interpreting this argument is to perceive the spatiotemporal scales of interest to ecologists (for example, communities, ecosystems) as comprised of ecological collectivities demonstrating more or less coherence depending on the type of ecological dynamics (for example, climatic events, predator ^ prey relationships, fluvial changes) under considera- tion in a specific study. This conception also underscores the importance of ecological networks, which can be seen as defining, in some respects, associated spatiotemporal scales that are labeled as `landscapes', `ecosystems', or other collective entities. Returning for the moment to recent geographical work, an emerging actor network perspective on spatial scale, and its connections to power, clarifies a revamped notion of scale that moves closer to the aforementioned goal of symmetry. Within this perspective, ``the key question becomes not that of scale, encoded in a categorical distinction between the `local' and the `global', but of connectivity, marking lines of flow of varying lengths and which transgress these categories _ the size, or scale, of an actor-network is a product of network lengthening, not of some special properties peculiar to `global' or `core' actors _ . Furthermore, the power associated with global reach has to be understood as a social composite of the actions and competences of many actants; an attribute not of a single person or organisation but of the number of actants involved in its composition'' (Whatmore and Thorne, 1997, pages 289 ^ 291). In addition, it may no longer be possible to speak of `global' or `environmental' contexts, because ``contexts too flow locally through networks'' (Latour, 1999, page 18). This opens up a path for political ecologists concerned with `contextualizing' localized case studies of environmental conflict by stressing that contexts are simultaneously `local' and `global' depending on their location within networks of actors and processes. So, if we are concerned about scale, and scale is more definitively about network lengthening (and, it should be noted, additional capacity to produce power effects), how is such lengthening achieved? It in fact ``requires the mobilisation of larger numbers and more intricately interwoven con- stituents, or mediators, to sustain a web of connections over greater distances. In so doing, it focuses analytical attention on describing this process of mediation and its agents in ways which force a challenging, and sometimes disconcerting, shift in the horizons of social research'' (Whatmore and Thorne, 1997, page 291).
Reconfiguring scale and power 2235 Ecological scientists have also struggled with epistemological concerns over scale. The dilemma of so-called scale effects, or how changing the resolution of one's analytical lens can lead to significantly different questions and results, is a pertinent example. As Levin (1992, page 1945) astutely notes, ``when we observe the environment, we necessarily do so only on a limited range of scales; therefore, our perception of events provides us with only a low-dimensional slice through a high-dimensional cake.'' For ecologists, ``scale becomes meaningful with regard to things only when it is operationalized in its use in a measure in the act of observation'' and is thus ``tied _ tightly to the act of observing'' (Allen, 1998, page 37). Thus, in discussions of the ecological character of scale, researchers tend to recognize the notion's contingencies and the crucial role of the observer, who defines the spatial (and temporal) scale at which his or her research will be cast. This is a critical moment in shaping how scale is eventually understood within ecological research. A similar moment occurs within actor-network methodologies when analysts must cleave off the `ends' of networks, or decide in the first instance which particular network to follow and why. To reiterate, conversations between theorists of ecologically constructed scales and those produced through social relations have scarcely begun. This continuing demarca- tion of ecological and social versions of scale inhibits more incisive and politically salient investigations of environmental conflicts. For example, ecological accounts of scale run into trouble when they provide the rationale for constructing management activities around scales with measurable material qualities, such as a river basin, with- out giving due attention to the political and economic construction of scales that almost never reflect the physical scale of the entity in question. Conversely, work on the dynamics of socially defined and mediated scales too often overlooks the important ways in which ecological networks actively create and influence an assortment of scalar entities. An actor-network approach might assist in resolving such divergences by insisting that the social and ecological construction of scale be examined symmetri- cally and with rigorous attention to the lengthening (and contracting) networks that allow us to talk about different `scales' in the first place. For instance, what does it mean to distinguish basins, landscapes, communities, populations, and patches within ecology? Essentially, these categories reflect an ecological `lengthening' of networks that incorporates more and more dynamic ecological entities (actors) as we move from the individual to the ecosystem and so on. My goal is not too far removed from Amin's (2002, page 386) talk of a ``different insight _ to scalar thinking'' that ``emphasises a topology marked by overlapping near-far relations and organizational connections that are not reducible to scalar spaces''. I do not think we want to give up altogether on the `scalar language' and the metaphors that permeate our analyses and political projects, but rather advocate more careful thinking about what actually constitutes different `scales' as used in the narratives of environmental conflicts. 4 The Khong-Chi-Mun `network': the state, extensions, and involutions What follows is an empirical tale of the KCM project. This tale is not the one usually told by proponents and opponents of the project, wherein the KCM is frequently reduced to `savior of the northeast' for its ostensible promise of water to an arid landscape, or to `yet another water development debacle' for its equally probable capacity to provoke a host of socioecological problems and associated social conflicts. For all the controversy the project has fomented over the past decade, advocates and oppositional voices have both been remarkably ahistorical in their respective interpreta- tions. I thus want to focus on the somewhat laborious process through which the KCM project was conceived, argued over, and, haltingly, implemented over the past four decades or so. As with other networks, or collectives (see Callon and Law, 1995),
2236 C Sneddon the KCM project ``traces its own particular space ^ time which reflects both the variety of materials used in construction and the relations established between the combined elements'' (Murdoch, 1998, page 361). Before turning to this historical trajectory, however, I want to highlight several important aspects of the case presented here: the degree to which the KCM actor-network, or collective, is a manifestation of state power; how the KCM project intersects with recent thinking on the reworking of scale; the basic methodological contours of an actor-network approach; and the need to historicize environmental conflicts. Despite an efflorescence of recent writing on forms of power circulating beyond and through the state, I do not want to give up completely on the importance of state agents in the exercise of power (see Poulantzas, 1980) and the reformulation of scale. Such a project may entail a cautious blend of ideas from political economy and governmentality [see Lee (2000) for a step in this direction]. Contrary to some recent currents, I contend that Marxist political economy has never seen power relations solely in terms of the state's exercise of power. However, even those fields of power that may be regarded as beyond the reaches of the state are, at least in the modern era, being brought more intimately into the ambit of state operations. As Poulantzas (1980, page 37) argues: ``Intervening more and more in every sphere of social reality, dissolving thereby the traditionally `private' texture, the State spreads out into the tiniest vein and _ tends to circumscribe power sectors and every class power.'' Accordingly, I place a great deal of emphasis on the state and its various agencies invested with the ability to build dams and irrigation structures and otherwise directly alter the flow of rivers, as in the case of KCM. An important expression of state power in this case is the manner in which the scheme proposes to enroll nonhumans. In its current incarnation, the interbasin transfer project aims to promote irrigated agricul- ture throughout northeast Thailand on an unprecedented scale by withdrawing water from the main channel of the Mekong River about 20 km upstream from Nong Khai (on the Thai ^ Lao border near the Lao PDR capital of Vientiane) and diverting it through a series of dams, weirs, canals, and pumps towards significant parts of the Chi and Mun river basins (Kamol, 1995; Nippon Koei Co Ltd, 1993), which form the hydrological axes of the northeast region (see figure 1). Once diverted, the water will ostensibly be used to irrigate up to 4.9 million rai (780 000 ha) of farmland (Sombat, 1993), thus providing access to water in the dry season for rice farming and stimulating agroindustrial development, focused on exportable vegetables, throughout the region. In short, it is an attempt by the national state to reconfigure a region that encompasses, on one hand, a complex set of river basins and ecological networks, and on the other hand, a set of political ^ economic jurisdictions ranging from local villages to a transnational basin shared by nation-states. In this instance, it is possible to interpret the activities of the Thai state in produc- ing and reshaping geographical scale via the KCM project as akin to how states act in economic realms. Jones (2001, page 1204), for example, links state power to ``an ability to reconfigure scale by reorganising state internal organisational structures and insti- tutions spatially, and adjusting corresponding territorial remits'' (emphasis in original). Seen in this light, regional development policies öfor example, the KCM scheme ö offer a scalar means of sidestepping contemporary crises in the broad trajectory of capitalist economic development. At another level, Jessop (2000, pages 343 ^ 344) theorizes a ``relativization of scale'' whereby ``economic and political forces'' occurring within the dynamics of the global economy, ceaselessly searching for development advantages through ``economic and political projects oriented to different scales'', have contributed to the perceived need for state-driven ``economic coordination and/or regulation'' at scales such as the supranational and regional levels. Insofar as the same
Reconfiguring scale and power 2237 Nam Phong M ek Nam o ng Chi R iv er Up p er Ch i Nam Mun ong Takh Lam 0 50 100 km Proposed irrigation areas Existing reservoir Transfer canal route Figure 1. Proposed interbasin canals of the Khong-Chi-Mun project, northeast Thailand. political and economic forces described by Jones and Jessop are actively enrolling ecological entities (as `resources' or `natural capital') into their developmental projects, there is little hindrance to applying a similar lens to the reconfiguring of the ecological networks constituting the ecosystem scale. Indeed, as an increasing number of water resource development projects have transformed the rivers of northeast Thailand (see Sneddon, 2000), it becomes apparent that the reworking of scale in this fashion has been profound. At a methodological level, Callon's (1986) early statement on actor-networks is instructive for unraveling the complex ways in which states exercise power and rework scales. At the heart of Callon's methodology are notions such as transla- tion ö involving several phasesö defined as a process ``during which the identity of actors, the possibility of interaction and the margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited'' (page 203).(4) Callon's notion of enrollment (one of the phases of (4)Translation involves four equally important steps or phases termed: problematization (how actors' identities relevant to the particular problem are established and fixed); interessement (how one particular entity, for example, scientists, attempts to define the roles of all other actors using technologies, texts, discourses, etc); enrollment (whereby actors come to accept the roles assigned to them); and mobilization (how researchers, in Callon's case, come to gain the capacity to speak for others in a legitimating voice) (Callon, 1986).
2238 C Sneddon translation) ö as employed by, for example, Burgess et al (2000, page 123): ``Actors become powerful through their abilities to enroll others in a network and extend their network over greater distances'' ö is particularly helpful in unraveling the KCM project's evolution into an actor-network that actively recruits and enrolls social and natural entities. Prominent among these entities are a variety of Thai state agencies (in particular the Department of Energy Development and Promotion), the water and associated aquatic organisms of the Mekong, Chi, and Mun river basins, the myriad farmers and fisherfolk whose livelihoods remain tightly linked to water cycles, the institutional apparatuses associated with economic development of the Lower Mekong Basin (including, prominently, the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission, or Mekong Committee prior to 1995), and an emerging coalition of community organizations and NGOs within Thailand. Finally, the precise ways in which the actors have both contributed to and become enrolled in the KCM network is historically contingent, and this contingency is too often neglected in similar accounts of environmental conflict. I here draw on Murdoch's (1998, pages 362 ^ 364) important differentiation between actor-networks that encom- pass or comprise ``spaces of prescription'' (more fully formed networks seeking to act in their own interests) and ``spaces of negotiation'' (less rigid, more fluid networks in which actors are being jettisoned and enrolled). The KCM project clearly reflects the latter. Given this distinction, the contemporary discourses and activities of the Thai state over `regional development' and `water for the northeast' that envelop the KCM project are the direct material and ideological descendants of the discourses and activities surrounding the Thai state's participation in the Mekong Project, a far more ambitious scheme to control and manage the entire Mekong River. This history explicates the extension of the KCM actor-network, or collective, under the auspices of Thai state officials, who used an adept blend of arguments concerning water resource development in general and the need for international cooperation in trans- boundary river governance in particular to gather other actors under their banner. This stratagem of the Thai state has had mixed results, because it eventually led to a series of involutions, or contractions, of the KCM network whereby crucial individual projects associated with KCM have themselves become controversial hybrid entities. A historical perspective also demonstrates the manner in which temporal concerns figure promi- nently in the politics of scale, a point often overlooked in geographical debates on the topic. 4.1 Extensions An embryonic form of the KCM project was intimately bound up in mid-20th-century plans enfold the Lower Mekong Basin within the developmental aims of its four riparian states (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam) [see Sneddon and Nguyen (2001) for portions of this history]. A 1956 reconnaissance report undertaken by engineers of the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and commissioned by the United Nations' Economic Committee for Asia and the Far East as prelude to formation of the intergovernmental Mekong Committee in 1957, concluded that: ``Of all the four countries situated in the lower basin of the Mekong, Thailand is the one that has the most urgent need for the development of irrigation in its north- eastern region ... . If large-scale cultivation of crops requiring a significant quantity of water is contemplated ... the only way of assuring such supply will be to tap the flow from the Mekong'' (USBR, 1956, page 2.24). For those individuals and agencies within the Thai state concerned with water resource development, the early activities of the Mekong Projectöas development planners and boosters dubbed the grandiose schemes to dam the river for hydropower, irrigation,
Reconfiguring scale and power 2239 and flood controlöwere contingent on using the river's water to irrigate large swathes of territory in the northeast of the country. The Mekong collective during this period consisted primarily of planners within a variety of the resource development agencies of the riparian nations (exclusive of Chinese and Burmese officials), a cadre of professional hydrologists, geologists, and engineers commissioned to investigate the basin's devel- opment potential (many affiliated with the USA's premier dam-building agencies, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers), and a small sector of the international aid community (coordinated through the United Nations Development Programme) for whom the Mekong represented an important symbol of cooperative development (on these latter actors, see Nguyen, 1999). During this formative period (roughly the late 1950s until the early 1970s), the Mekong Project was also dominated by the idea of the Pa Mong dam, a massive impoundment slated for construction on the mainstream of the river on the Thai ^ Lao border 20 km upstream of Vientiane. The project would have required resettlement of at least 250 000 people, and was one of a series of ten to twelve planned dams constituting a `Mekong Cascade' through which, theoretically, control of the river's flow for multiple purposes (for example, hydropower, irrigation, and flood control) could be most efficiently achieved. Mekong planners argued that the water stored in the Pa Mong reservoiröand diverted through a series of canals and smaller dam projectsöcould be used to irrigate an estimated two million ha in northeast Thailand. The calculated hydroelectric potential of the dam was also prodigious, amounting to a total installed capacity of 4600 megawatts (Mekong Secretariat, 1989, page 33). In short, the Thai state, led primarily by officials of its nascent development planning agency (the National Economic Development Board) and of the National Energy Authority (NEA), an agency created in part to translate Mekong-related initiatives into a Thai territorial context, pegged its early hopes for transforming northeastern agriculture and supplying energy for national economic growth on construction of the Pa Mong dam. Yet it was the focus on bringing water to the northeast (through a nascent KCM project) that animated prominent Thai officials who, while aware of the potential benefits of hydroelectricity, perceived irrigation development via interbasin transfers as the most direct way to capture the benefits of vast water resources (the Mekong) they argued were being squandered through non-use. They also astutely linked manipulation of Mekong water for the benefit of Thai development aspirations to the continuing participation of Thailand in the evolving cooperative forum of the Mekong Committee. At a meeting of the Mekong Committee in 1973, Dr Boonrod Binson, an architect of Thailand's water resource policy and planning throughout the late 1960s and 1970s and Thai representative to the Mekong Committee, boldly asserted Thailand's stance regarding Pa Mong and, in general, towards cooperation within the Mekong Committee framework. He argued the ``improvement of agriculture in Northeast Thailand is to us of utmost importance ... .'' Low agricultural productivity ``can be changed, but can only be changed in a really big way, by large-scale irrigation and improved agricultural practice'', and Pa Mong would assist in bringing this change about. ``It is truly the Mekong River itself that holds the key to the prosperity of the north- eastern part of Thailand as well as to our national power supply in the coming decades. Our interest in, and support of, the Mekong Committee is firmly rooted on that premise'' (Boonrod Binson, quoted in Mekong Committee, 1973). A similar refrain was picked up in the Mekong Committee's `informational' documents throughout the 1970s:
2240 C Sneddon ``In the long run, Thailand's well-being will depend in no small measure on the Mekong. One single dam, such as Pa Mong could provide a massive block of power to meet essential needs _ in the future only Mekong water, stored behind a mainstream dam, could sustain the irrigation development needed for that region to produce enough food, rather than becoming a liability to the rest of the country'' (Mekong Secretariat, 1977). Water resource development plans internal to Thailand during this period were equally transparent, and equated water resource development not only with rising agricultural production, but with increased `national security' as well. For example, the Fourth National Development Plan, published in 1976, noted that ``water projects have to be implemented on a region-wide basis and more water from the Mekong River must be pumped and channeled into irrigation canals'' (GOT, 1976, page 155). Such an undertaking would provide a ``psychological boost to inhabitants of the North- east region and thus strengthen national security''. So by the 1970s the Thai state had effectively linked its willingness to engage in the emergent actor-network of the Mekong basin to its own interests in pursuing agroindustrial development in the north- east. While still unnamed, the contours and broad goals of the KCM öusing water from the Mekong to irrigate the northeastöhad been established. However, it was also during this period that the Pa Mong project became an obstacle to seamless evolution of the KCM network. Amidst rising concerns over the ecological and social effects such a massive dam was sure to engender (see Challinor, 1973), not to mention the political turmoil and acute conflict encompassing mainland Southeast Asia throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, the actual construction of Pa Mong seemed less and less likely. Furthermore, Vietnamese officials had long expressed concerns about the ramifications of the gigantic Pa Mong dam on the Mekong's delta, an economically critical region in terms of rice and fish production (see, for example, Dang, 1967). The Thai state, realizing the increasing uncertainty of the Pa Mong dam, began to place greater emphasis on the seemingly simpler task of withdrawing water directly from the Mekong through pumps located almost precisely where the Pa Mong dam, had it been constructed, would have been located. As expressed by the Mekong Committee's Advisory Board during a meeting in the early 1970s, ``Irrigation development could therefore be planned step by step without affecting decisions on the [Pa Mong] dam construction ... [in accordance with] the Board's recognition of the vital role to be played in the development of north-east Thailand by irrigation using Pa Mong water'' (Mekong Committee, 1972, page 7). Although relatively dormant for a significant period in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the KCM again appeared prominently on the development agenda of Thai water resource planners by the latter half of the 1980s. A series of reports commissioned by the Office of the Prime Minister and carried out by consulting firms reaffirmed the necessity of watering the northeast. In the words of one report, irrigation development in the region will not only increase rice production, but ``will allow a move away from subsistence agriculture towards forestry, livestock produc- tion and industry ... . The establishment of agro-industry must be the focal point of development ... . Irrigation, required to produce raw materials for the agro-processing industry, will create wealth and job opportunities in the rural areas'' (Biwater, 1987, page 47). With regard to obtaining water for the northeast, the report asserts that the ``most appropriate and tangible investment that can now be made is in irrigation schemes on the Mekong to make use of flows draining from the Region or to bring water from assured supplies into the hardship areas of the Region'' (Biwater, 1987, page 55). This and similar studies led directly to full endorsement of the KCM project by the cabinet
Reconfiguring scale and power 2241 of Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in April 1989 (Sombat, 1993). The Thai state had successfully negotiated the extension of the nascent interbasin transfer project, which had previously been contingent on the stored waters of the Pa Mong dam, to encompass a large portion of the northeast regardless of Pa Mong. The result of this strategy was commencement of construction activities on the various irrigation infra- structure projects (for example, pumping stations and canals) that, when linked within the public discourse of the state in the early 1990s, eventually became the KCM project. 4.2 Involutions and contractions As argued earlier, representations of power viewed within an actor-network frame cannot be isolated in terms of individual actions; nor is power some innate quality of specific people or groups. Power ``over something or someone is a composition made by many people [and things]'' (Latour, 1986, page 265) and this composition is made visible in part by its effects on other sets of actor networks. Indeed, it was not until the KCM project motivated resistance to its implementation on the grounds of likely social and ecological impacts, a resistance negotiated through other kinds of actor- networks (for example, Thai academics, NGOs, people's organizations, and a range of nonhumans), that the KCM network's membership and power effects became more palpable and comprehensible. These shifts set in motion a series of extensions and involutions of the KCM network that help describe the shifting geographical scales of conflict surrounding the interbasin transfer project. Oppositional voices first arose in the early 1990s, after the scheme became officially encoded in the registry of state projects. Thai criticsöassociated with an increasingly effective and well-organized coalition of Thai social movements (see Hirsch, 1997) and some crucial transnational allies such as the US-based International Rivers Network (IRN)öbegan pointing out that the KCM project by its very nature would mobilize ecological agents that would severely undermine projected benefits. For example, KCM opponents note the likelihood of increased salinization of soils following implementa- tion of the full scheme (Yuwadee and Chakrit, 1997) in a region with an estimated 19.4 million rai (3.1 million ha) of land at risk of becoming saline (official from the Depart- ment of Land Development, quoted in Sombat, 1993). Indeed, the Khorat Plateau, as the landform that delineates the northeast region from the rest of the Thai national territory is known, is underlain by several expansive geological formations all of which, to differing degrees, contain rock salts that have contributed to an inordinately high percentage of saline soils in the region (Wongsomsak, 1986). Of the seven dams proposed under the KCM project, two are finished and several others are under construction. By the end of the first stage of the KCM, around 3000 million cubic meters (mcm) of water will have been diverted from the Mekong, but there are no details regarding this figure to be found in the project document. In addition, no environmental impact assessments have been undertaken for the individual projects falling under the umbrella of the KCM (Walakkamon, 1995). One of the `node projects' of the KCM network, the Rasi Salai weir and irrigation works (see below), has already promulgated complaints among local farmers of soils and water so saline that it has become impossible to cultivate the area. Critics of the project, primarily Thai academics and Thai NGOs (prominently the Bangkok-based Project for Ecological Recovery), also charge that the scheme is motivated almost purely by potential political gain and are highly skeptical of the government's claims regarding the improvement of living conditions in the northeast (Watershed 1995, page 27). Prakob Wirojanagud, Professor of Water Engineering at Khon Kaen University and long-time advocate of small-scale water resource development, argued that the
2242 C Sneddon ``demand [for water] is among politicians and technocrats'' and not among the region's rice farmers (quoted in Sombat, 1993). The project has indeed won strong backing from members of parliament hailing from the northeast, who perceive the massive construction expenditures as means of solidifying the allegiance of village and district officials, whose assistance is critical in gaining (or buying) northeastern votes during parliamentary elections. As the deputy director of the Department of Energy Development and Promo- tion (DEDP)öthe government agency with primary responsibility for implementing KCMöput it: ``How can the Government scrap the project? Every MP in the Northeast wants the project implemented. Without water, how can we make the Northeast a gateway to Indochina?'' (quoted in Sombat, 1993). The majority of criticism and frustrations over the KCM project emanating from academics, NGOs, and peoples' organizations has been directed at the DEDP, which in its previous incarnation as the NEA was responsible for the construction of hundreds of pump irrigation projects throughout the northeast region. Described by one observer as ``deceptively obscure'' (Ryder, 1994), DEDP has carefully nurtured the general idea of an interbasin transfer project through its linkages with Mekong inter- governmental institutions öthe aforementioned Dr Boonrod Binson was a director of NEA, and DEDP is the line agency currently responsible for representing Thailand's interests on the Mekong River Commissionöand through its quiet advocacy of the KCM project when it became a political priority for successive regimes of the Thai government in the 1990s. In many ways, construction of the KCM scheme has become central to DEDP's organizational identity, and one of the few remaining ways in which this rather odd agency, whose broader responsibilities have been consistently reduced or taken over by other offices since the 1960s, can exercise power. This echoes Dean's (1999, page 26) admonition that ``government is accomplished through multiple actors and agencies rather than a centralized set of state apparatuses, and _ we must reject any a priori distribution and divisions of power and authority.'' Although the varied political motivations of KCM advocates are clear, most of the arguments surrounding the potential ecological and social effects of the KCM project are conjectural at this point. Critics of the project have yet to enlist sufficient scientific discourses and practices (for example, soil studies, and biological inventories) to their cause, in part because the scientifically constructed evidence simply does not exist and in part because the Thai state officials have a long history of ignoring or confirming `science' as it suits their needs. For example, the precise mechanisms through which irrigation water contributes to salinization of soils at each topographically distinct site in northeast Thailand remains unknown, although the acreage of saline land continues to expand (Wongsomsak, 1986). Yet, it is at this point that I want to highlight that the KCM network, extending through the discursive and material labors of the Thai state to incorporate the water of the Mekong basin into a broad project of regional devel- opment in the northeast, suffered a series of involutions, or contractions, in the 1990s. It is during this period that a new set of `local' environmental conflicts emerged at specific nodes along the KCM network. Construction of the Rasi Salai weir on the Mun River in Si Sa Ket province concluded in 1993 at a cost of Bt560 million (roughly US $22 million), and quickly angered local communities because of problems associated with salinization of rice fields and loss of a valuable paa thaam, akin to a freshwater mangrove forest, inun- dated by the dam's reservoir [Yuwadee and Chakrit (1997); see Chainarong et al (2000) for a more detailed account of Rasi Salai]. Recently, the successful campaign of nearly 1000 families from the area inundated by Rasi Salai to gain compensation for live- lihood losses has generated intense political conflict. Farmers not party to the original claim and other factions from the same region, organized by proponents of the dam
Reconfiguring scale and power 2243 who proclaim its irrigation benefits, have stalled compensation payments. Political parties supporting the pro-dam groups oppose compensation on the grounds that payments would exceed the original cost of the dam, and that promises made by a previous Thai prime minister need not be upheld by the current one (Onnucha, 1998). On 9 May 2000 thousands of local farmers, frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations over just compensation for their lost farmlands, took control of the Rasi Salai dam and demanded that water be released downstream of the dam to improve salt-affected soils. About fifty officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOSTE) were locked in their offices near the dam (The Nation [Bangkok], 2000). Several weeks later, the minister of MOSTE ordered the DEDP to open the gates of the Rasi Salai dam and leave them ajar for two years. He also asked DEDP to survey the lands surrounding the reservoir, because the agency had not done this prior to construction, making it nearly impossible to distinguish legitimate from bogus claimants to compensation. The DEDP has paid out Bt57 million (roughly US $1.4 million) to 775 villagers near the project, but another 17 000 are still seeking compensation (Pennapa, 2000)öthe difference in calcula- tion in amount of US $ reflects the extreme change in exchange rate between periods. A crucial moment in the case of Rasi Salai arrived when communities in the affected areas, in alliance with Thai academics, began highlighting the important role of the aforementioned paa thaam in contributing to local livelihoods. In the early 1990s Prasit Khunarat of Khon Kaen University's Research and Development Institute conducted a study of these forests and their livelihood importance to local commu- nities. People living near the forests grow both khao nong and khao rai, two different varieties of rice. Prasit found that there are over 100 species of plants in these forests and a wide variety of fish species. Prasit's report also notes that in one village, 80% of the inhabitants supplemented their income with resources harvested from the local paa thaam. The area associated with the paa thaam is also a very important resource in terms of grazing cattle, and provides a variety of food sources including hares, turtles, squirrels, mushrooms, shellfish, and man saeng (a type of tapioca) (TDSC, 1994). I argue that the paa thaam of the Nam Mun in the area of Rasi Salai can be seen as a complex socioecological hybrid that, by virtue of its enfoldment into the ambitions of the KCM project, helped mobilize additional actors (for example, Thai academics) who have added their voices to those resisting the project. Additional water conflicts have emerged along the veins of the KCM network. The ongoing turmoil over the Pak Mun dam near the confluence of the Mun and Mekong rivers is well documented (Glassman, 2002),(5) and the Nam Phong (Sneddon, 2002) and Nam Songkhram (Lohmann, 1998) projectsöboth targeted as facets of the KCM schemeöhave been the site of ongoing protests over state interventions in river basins. Somewhat lost amidst the intricacies of the political ecology of these projects was precisely that these were in fact components of the broader interbasin scheme to withdraw and redistribute the flows of the Mekong. The Thai state has singlemindedly pursued the appropriation of the northeast's river systemsöand, prominently, Mekong flowsöover the past four decades, and nothing represents this continuity in developmentalist thinking better than the KCM project. However, the KCM interbasin transfer project/actor-network has been forced to negotiate a series of extensions and contractions throughout its history. The Mekong (5)The Pak Mun damsite was occupied by a group of roughly 3000 people from villages adversely affected by the dam in May 2000. These protestors demanded that the dam's sluice gates be opened to allow migrating fish to pass relatively unfettered into upstream breeding areas (Chainarong and Imhof, 2000). Although the Thai government reacted violently in November 2000 by organizing a brutal physical assault on the villagers, it eventually allowed the opening of the gates (Bangkok Post 2000).
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