Dissertation Abstracts

Online conflicts over conservation and development of the amazon: The case of the Conflict over the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in Brazil

Author: Leite, Flavia , flavia.leite@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Criminology & Law
University: University of Florida, USA
Supervisor: Stephen Perz
Year of completion: 2016
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: social movement , digital technologies , Brazil , dam
Areas of Research: Environment and Society , Social Classes and Social Movements , Historical and Comparative Sociology


The conflict over the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the eastern Amazon has persisted in Brazil for more than 30 years. On one side, supporters have pushed for the construction of the dam in order to meet growing demand for energy in Brazil. One the other side, opponents have cited negative social and environmental impacts in order to press the government to cancel the dam. Over many years, this conflict has been waged in several spaces, including on the streets of several cities, in the courts, and inside governmental offices. Recently, the Belo Monte conflict gained an online component as supporters and opponents began to use digital technologies to defend their perspectives.

In this dissertation, I examine the role of digital technologies in the conflict over Belo Monte, and recent changes in the social movement opposing the dam. My analysis proceeds in three main parts. First, I explain how the Belo Monte conflict gained a strong online component and highlight the significance of online contestation, such as via the spillover effects from cyberspace to the mainstream media. This part of the analysis offers an account of how online contestation can emerge, as well as how it can spill over into other media and broader publics. Second, I compare how supporters and opponents of Belo Monte used online technologies to advance their perspectives. This offers a relatively rare appraisal of how activists as well as defenders of the status quo use digital technologies, and permits an evaluation of whether activists gain an advantage by protesting online. Third, I provide an explanation as to why Belo Monte was approved despite the strong opposition, both online and offline. Whereas other accounts highlight national and international factors tied to the political economy of Brazil, I call attention to local factors that reveal ruptures in the grassroots movement itself, which also merit recognition in explanation.

With this analysis, I argue that conceptualizing the Internet as a space for conflict is useful in order to examine the use of online technologies in conflicts, particularly if one wants to account for movement/countermovement dynamics online.

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