Dissertation Abstracts

Changing Stream of Power: Hydropower and Local Residents along the Kemi River.

Author: Autti, Outi M, outi.autti@oulu.fi
Department: Thule Institute
University: University of Oulu, Finland
Supervisor: Timo P Karjalainen
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: Finnish

Keywords: environmental change , hydro power , local residents , power relations
Areas of Research: Environment and Society , Community Research , Participation, Organizational Democracy and Self-Management


The construction of human-controlled watercourses to meet the need for hydroelectric power has substantially changed freshwater ecosystems, as well as the cultural dynamics of local communities along the Kemi River. At the moment, there are 21 hydropower plants in the Kemi River basin, and further building is still topical.
The construction of hydropower plants gave benefits but it also caused harm to the people living along the Kemi River. It was a deathblow to salmon migration. The alteration of the river has radically changed the water environment, the landscape and the usage of the river environment. The processed conflicts and paid compensations are always connected to economic losses, but the river has also many other aspects and meanings from the viewpoint of a riverman.
The planning and building of hydroelectric plants took place at the same time with other significant events in northern Finland. The rise of the forestry industry, the Second World War, post-war reconstruction and structural changes in society framed the electrification of northern rivers. The transformation from an agrarian society to a service and information society happened unusually quickly in Finland. It involved every aspect of local people’s lives, as the physical environment, local culture, social relations, means of income and the surrounding society changed in a short period of time.
In my research, I examine the changes caused by the electrification of the Kemi River in their temporal and spatial context. The focus is on the perspectives of local people and their personal relationships with the environment, as well as on the power relations within various actor groups. From my interview data, I have identified four different adaptation strategies: compliant builders, those in denial, resigned bystanders and opposing resisters. These strategies may be found overlapping in the stories of the interviewees. Local residents have had an opportunity to realign themselves with various available subject positions, as well as decline or remould them. Remoulding takes place in various situations, and local people, in a broadminded fashion, understand the benefits and disadvantages of hydropower, in spite of their own attitude. The alteration of the Kemi River has been a cultural trauma for the people living along the river, and the ones who experienced the change maintain a constant negotiation with the matter.

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