Cleaning Up the Big Muddy: A Meta-Synthesis of the Research on the Social Impact of Dams

Kirchherr, J., Pohlner, H. and Charles, K. (2016). Cleaning Up the Big Muddy: A Meta-Synthesis of the Research on the Social Impacts of Dams. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 60: 115-125

33 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2017

See all articles by Julian Kirchherr

Julian Kirchherr

Utrecht University - Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development

Huw Pohlner

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment

Katrina Charles

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment

Date Written: April 26, 2016

Abstract

Scholars have been exploring the social impacts of dams for over 50 years, but a lack of systematic approaches has resulted in many research gaps remaining. This paper presents the first systematic review of the literature on the social impacts of dams. For this purpose, we built a sample of 217 articles published in the past 25 years via key word searches, expert consultations and bibliography reviews. All articles were assessed against an aggregate matrix framework on the social impact of dams, which combines 27 existing frameworks. We find that existing literature is highly biased with regard to: perspective (45% negative versus 5% positive); dam size (large dams are overrepresented); spatial focus (on the resettlement area); and temporal focus (5–10 years ex-post resettlement). Additionally, there is bias in terms of whose views are included, with those of dam developers rarely examined by scholars. These gaps need to be addressed in future research to advance our knowledge on the social impact of dams to support more transparency in the trade-offs being made in dam development decisions.

Suggested Citation

Kirchherr, Julian and Pohlner, Huw and Charles, Katrina, Cleaning Up the Big Muddy: A Meta-Synthesis of the Research on the Social Impact of Dams (April 26, 2016). Kirchherr, J., Pohlner, H. and Charles, K. (2016). Cleaning Up the Big Muddy: A Meta-Synthesis of the Research on the Social Impacts of Dams. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 60: 115-125. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2956641

Julian Kirchherr (Contact Author)

Utrecht University - Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development ( email )

Heidelberglann 2
3508 TC Utrecht
Netherlands

Huw Pohlner

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment ( email )

Oxford University Centre for the Environment
South Parks Road
Oxford, OX1 3QY
United Kingdom

Katrina Charles

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment ( email )

Oxford University Centre for the Environment
South Parks Road
Oxford, OX1 3QY
United Kingdom

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