Enforcing Citizen Participation Through Litigation: Analysing the Outcomes of Anti-Dam Movements
Marie-Sophie Heinelt, Valesca Lima
Latin American Politics and Society
School of Law and Government

In environmental politics, social movements play a crucial role, promoting participatory rights and confronting injustice, inequality, and the interests of the powerful. This DCU research collaboration examines an underexplored topic in the literature on social movements, especially in Latin America: the use of litigation to force decisionmakers to comply with participatory formats, specifically in the course of opposition to hydroelectric dams. These projects often are destructive to the local environment and communities. This DCU research collaboration examines four cases of environmental litigation that halted dam construction in Brazil and Chile, singling out causal pathways for successful collective action. It focuses on two dimensions of movement success: the implementation of participatory formats and the resulting cancellation of dam projects. In line with the joint effect model of social movement theory, the cross-case comparison of legal disputes shows that pursuing legal strategies in parallel to broad social mobilization and the support of institutional allies, can lead to successful outcomes.

Latin American governments promote hydroelectric plants as a sustainable energy source to fulfill growing national energy needs. However, these projects often provoke severe social and environmental impacts, leading to resistance from local communities and environmental advocacy groups. This opposition represents much more than an outcry against the social and ecological impacts of dams. It is also a critique of the deep inequalities that shape development-oriented politics in the region.