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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Power relations : environment, emotion, and violence in the Site C Dam approval process Fitzpatrick, Brenda


The Site C hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, though purportedly a source of green power, is controversial because it would flood 5660 hectares (approximately 14,000 acres) of wilderness, farmland, and First Nations’ treaty territory. This dissertation is both an ethnography of that environmental conflict, and an exploration of the intersections between ethnography and conflict transformation. Research methods consisted of participant observation between June 2013 and October 2014, attendance at the Site C public hearings, analysis of hearing transcripts and related documents, and interviews with dam supporters and opponents, including a photo prompt exercise and a key word exercise. I found that different relationships to the environment and place, and different notions of development carried motivational, moral force in the conflict and were reflected in communication at the public hearings. The competing worldviews did not meet on equal terms, however. The official environmental assessment process discursively and materially favoured pro-Site perspectives in ways that amounted to both structural and cultural violence, in support of a project, that, because of the avoidable physical and psychological harms it would cause affected people, and its inequitable distribution of benefits, would itself be violent. This research contributes to ethnographic understanding of non-Indigenous perspectives on the environment and extractivism, and their connections to the violence manifested in environmental consultation. It underlines the gravity of environmental violence as real violence, particularly against Indigenous people, and challenges the notion that structural violence is invisible. The photo prompt exercise demonstrated potential as a non-rational, non-confrontational method for uncovering unarticulated differences in perspective, and overall, the research suggests the value of combined ethnographic and conflict transformation approaches in worldview conflicts. I conclude by drawing on Docherty’s (2001) concept of “worldview translation” as a way to navigate between the need to promote understanding and the obligation to call out injustice, in conflicts where sincere worldview differences are entangled with systemic violence.

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