Dr Barnaby Joseph Dye, FRGS, DPhil
My main role in Manchester is on the FutureDAMS research consortium where I work with Dr Tom Lavers and Professor David Hulme. Through this role and through engagement with other projects, I am pursuing three major research interests
The Politics of Electricity and Infrastructure
I am interested in the political economy of electricity, the processes involved in funding such infrastructure, the planning of electricity systems and decision making over who benefits. I have particularly studied this in Africa, looking at drives to increase power generation in Rwanda, Ghana, Ethiopia and Tanzania. All have planned huge megawatt construction booms but only the former three countries have successfully implemented them. However, for all countries, these booms in power have been controversial, not delivering promised cheap or reliable electricity. I am interested in understanding the politics explaining these rationalisations of power booms, their enrolment of the private sector and their impacts. Here I am particularly interested in the role of ideology in justifying such power infrastructure and shaping its delivery. It is often overlooked, but plays an important role alongside strategic interests.
I am currently leading FutureDAMS’ work looking at electricity in Ghana, in its boom in power plants, its pattern of winners and losers from the electricity system and the bureaucracy involved in managing power generation and dam building.
My interest in infrastructure and dam financing led to research on the emerging powers growing role in development and Africa. China has drawn most attention and I have engaged in this debate by leading the Oxford University China-Africa Forum. However, my doctoral research has focused on the lesser-known, but increasingly significant, relations of Brazil and India with Africa.
Since my doctorate, I have continued to work on India-Africa relations and particularly India’s subsidised government infrastructure loans, managed by the Indian ExIm Bank. I have analysed the origins of this finance, its processes and outcomes. I am particularly interested in the ongoing evolution of India’s Africa relations and development cooperation, which demonstrate a nuanced pattern of convergence with the practices of the World Bank and other so-called traditional development agencies. I am also particularly interested in the prominent role of Indian companies in African relations and the mixture of strategic, diplomatic and ideational thinking shaping Indian actors engagement with the continent.
This work has continued through an ongoing partnership with the India-UK Development Partnership Forum and a project with Professor Ricardo Soares de Oliveira.
The Political Economy and of the Dam-Building Resurgence: High Modernist Ideology in the 21st Century
I have a continuing research interest in the politics of large dams. Following a decade that saw a near cessation in dam building across the world, and particularly in Africa, hydropower is back on the agenda with projects and funding widespread.
This is interesting because these vast infrastructures have a long history of controversy given their fundamental trade-offs between electricity generation, supposed irrigation and water supply and their significant, negative social and environmental impacts. Dams have also inspired many leaders development ambitions. They have been placed at the centrepiece of modernisation programmes and are intimately associated with high modernism, a term coined by James Scott (1998) to describe an ideology dominating development imaginaries in the mid-20th Century.
I am interested in the political economy of 21st Century dams, their funding, their beneficiaries and their costs. I have particularly focused on dams’ planning processes and how the international level translates into patterns of winners and losers in specific geographies. I am especially interested in the role of ideology here. Are high modernist rationales still prevalent and influential in dam justifications and planning practices? I have published a number of articles on this theme and am pursuing a book project with Oxford University Press.
Past doctoral research at the University of Oxford supervised by Professor Soares de Oliveira (2014-2018)
My research asked why and how the dam building resurgence is happening. It took three representative cases of recent hydropower projects in Rwanda and Tanzania, the Nyabarongo, Rusumo and Stiegler’s Gorge hydropower projects. Through these cases the thesis explores a range of financiers and builders in this phase of hydropower, including the World Bank and actors from India and Brazil respectively.
At an international level, the research examines the rationales behind these governments and institutions engagement in African dam-building and the practises they adopt. At a national level it explores the histories of these projects and their context in Rwanda and Tanzania’s energy sectors. This includes how the three case studies fit into the planning of new electricity generation projects in the two countries. The dam project’s locale is also interrogated. The inclusion of communities in knowledge-production and decision-making is assessed, as is the planners’ understandings of each dam’s local socio-environmental context. These three levels generate an understanding of the rationales and practises of this latest phase of resurgent hydropower.
Top-down and teleological modernisation theory has provided the ideological drive behind dam-building in past eras. Consequently, the thesis built theory on whether the ideological drive and practises of modernisation theory, critiqued for their expert-orientated and elite-centric knowledge-production and decision-making, are continuing. This enabled conclusions about the continuity and change in the ongoing infrastructure turn in development.
The FutureDAMS Project
The project studies the Water-Food-Energy and Environment (WEFE) Nexus. It involves a technical scientific and engineering team creating a model of this nexus to aid the planning of dams and other energy infrastructure whilst highlighting the trade-offs inherent in such projects. It also involves social scientists studying the nexus and the politics of infrastructure. I sit under the political economy stream of research, focusing on Ghana, India and Ethiopia. I oversee three projects that study the politics of dams and electricity in India and Ghana with collaborators from each country. I have also led the production of a FutureDAMS manual outlining a more participatory, stakeholder-based approach to modelling the WEFE Nexus and making decisions about infrastructure