UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hydro-transitions : an environmental history of Chilean electrification de Montmollin, Peter B.


This thesis examines the history of electrification and hydropower in Chile during the 20th century. Drawing from environmental history, technology history, and science and technology studies, it asks three central questions: How did technology, nature and society interact and shape the hydro-electrification of Chile? What were the economic, environmental and political consequences of damming Chilean rivers for power? And, more broadly, how did rivers, hydroelectric stations and power lines influence territorial and developmental imaginaries and policies over this period? The empirical foundations of the research are primary documents consulted at various archives and libraries in Santiago, Chile, as well as some online repositories. The thesis is structured loosely around the 1943 national electrification plan, which set the terms for constructing a large technological system to exploit Chile’s rivers for power. It explores the origins and creation of the plan, the execution of a key project on the Laja River in south-central Chile, and the failure of another project in Aysén in southern Patagonia. Using these case studies, the thesis makes three main arguments about the history of electricity and hydro power in Chile: 1) that electrification was a key component of the mid-century development project of state-led industrialization; 2) that the construction of the national grid, which is defined as a large envirotechnical system, reveals the limitations to technology’s capacity to capture and control the environment; and 3) that the process of national electrification was a bridge to nation-building processes initiated in the 19th century, as well as to environmental conflicts and energy politics that occurred during and after the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International