Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Global Governance and Human Security

First Advisor

J. S. Barkin

Second Advisor

Margaret P. Karns

Third Advisor

Rosalyn Negron


,p>Dams are powerful structures that engender a flood of controversies. These projects face great criticism from numerous groups, many of whom succeed in influencing such enterprises. This research is an in-depth study on dam-related social and environmental movements in the Amazon: how they are created and internally organized; how members share information and resources, how they identify alternatives; and how they design strategies and implement agendas. Social movements include, but are not limited to, domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academic researchers, journalists, religious organizations, grassroots associations, and large private foundations. They create formal or informal coalitions and design joint strategies aimed at protecting local communities and ecosystems from the negative impacts of dams. To systematically understand these social interactions, it is important to realize that these groups operate as social networks. I ask “How do networks of social and environmental groups influence decision-makers regarding the construction and management of large dams in the Brazilian Amazon?”

To answer my research question, I study how various groups form networks, trace the process through which their strategies were formulated and implemented, and assess the influence these strategies have had on policymakers. I use process tracing and social network analysis (SNA) to investigate two social movements that successfully managed to influence high-level policymakers around the Belo Monte and the Sao Luiz do Tapajos dams in the Brazilian Amazon. I investigate the kinds of relations activists have with one another and the networks they form. I evaluate the characteristics that render each of these networks successful at influencing policymakers. In both cases, the SNA method revealed important insights into these social movements. One of the main findings of this research is that social movements are more effective at influencing policymakers when they manage to build networks that are dense, diverse, and diffuse. Finally, I also offer theoretical contributions into the relations between agency and structure as co-constitutive forces in social movements. Activists shape and are shaped by the networks they build, and this co-constitutive nature of social movements is crucial in analyzing why some movements can successfully influence policymakers.