The micropolitical life of energy projects : A collaborative exploration of injustice and resistance to small hydropower projects in the Wallmapu, Southern Chile

Hernando-Arrese, Maite; Rasch, Elisabet Dueholm


This article contributes to an emerging body of literature about the micropolitics of the transition to renewable energy by examining how community leaders, in order to protect their territories, contest the energy transition. We present findings from two ethnographic case studies of small hydropower plants (SHPs) in indigenous Mapuche territory. As SHPs up to 20 MW are considered renewable projects by law, Chilean national authorities consider them as a non-invasive eco-friendly solution and, consequently, most of these projects are approved without carrying out an indigenous consultation and, thus, ignoring community leaders’ demands for territorial autonomy. Following a micropolitical ecology approach, this paper analyses community leaders’ resistance towards SHPs in Mapuche territories by discussing three key aspects: 1) access to information, 2) participation in decision-making processes, and 3) changes in community politics. These are different dimensions of the ‘micropolitical life of SHPs’, a heuristic tool, defined in collaboration with community leaders to explore the contentious political dynamics that community leaders experience in their resistance against SHPs on the one hand, and to describe how community leaders’ political practices shape and are shaped by contingent encounters and alliances in specific historical and territorial settings on the other. We conclude that despite the anguish that SHPs cause, community leaders bring about hope that may create possibilities to transform their territories.