Local contention in energy and water related projects. Discussions of environmental justice


  • Carolina Pacchi Politecnico di Milano
  • Ruggero Signoroni DAStU Politecnico di Milano


water management, energy production, local conflicts, mobilisation




Climate change dynamics trigger very diverse effects at spatial and territorial level, and their impacts on the territorial domain are typically contentious, in that they entail structural distributional issues at different scales in relation to different populations, as literature in the environmental domain has shown since long (Swyngedow Heyned 2003; Mohai, Pellow, Timmons Roberts 2009). Moreover, the possible policy directions to tackle them, in terms of prevention, mitigation and adaptation, open distributional games very difficult to tackle with traditional public policy tools (Schön Rein 1994) and with horizontal governance arrangements.

Recent cases of mobilization in local conflicts about energy production and water management in Europe and the Mediterranean show the urgency to address these distributional issues and the difficulties related to a transition to different models of production and consumption.  Forms of mobilization and insurgency make the underlying contentious dimensions manifest, even in the face of strong sustainability rhetoric, and they resort to complex a repertoires across the offline and online spheres, thus producing new types of spatialities (Leitner, Sheppard, Sziarto 2008).

The paper will critically discuss issues of mobilisation and insurgency in three cases of local contention related to energy production and water management. Looking more in detail into these cases, some elements seem to recur:  the diversity of stakeholders and their perspectives, the alertness and networking ability of local communities, the ability to counter decisions backed by local, national, or international power with forms of insurgency, the ability to unveil and challenge sustainability rhetoric and discourses, the capacity to play across a range of offline and online mobilization strategies and tools. What lies at the heart of the cases that will be discussed are the inequality patterns made evident by these mobilisations: they entail for instance native populations in the face of state governments, poorer farmers in the face of larger farming corporations, local village inhabitants in the face of large internationally backed projects.

Unpacking these recurring elements, the paper will highlight dynamics of contention, mobilisation and insurgency, looking specifically at how local communities get to identify and define themselves in relation to the commons impacted by decisions taken by supra-local actors, how they get together through different online, offline and hybrid strategies, how they enact and make forms of conflict manifest, how they deploy their strategic ability to create wider support networks and to challenge dominant climate and sustainability related rhetoric.

Author Biography

  • Ruggero Signoroni, DAStU Politecnico di Milano

    PhD Candidate, PhD Programme in Urban Planning, Design and Policy, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano, Italy


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Mohai P., Pellow D., Timmons Roberts J. (2009) ‘Environmental Justice’, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 34:405-430

Schön D and Rein M. (1994) Frame Reflection, New York, Basic Books

Swyngedouw E., Heynen N.C. (2003) ‘Urban Political Ecology, Justice and the Politics of Scale’, Antipode, 35, 5: 898-918