Assistance and resistance of (hydro-)power: Contested relationships of control over the Volta River, Ghana

Kirsty Wissing

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    In this article, I examine human attempts to control water, and water's inherent potential for disorder, by focusing on the Volta River and Akosombo Dam in Ghana. I suggest that, in regard to the work of Wittfogel, Kwame Nkrumah's famous vision of Ghanaian nationalism and pan-African sovereignty was a kind of Wittfogelian reading of waterscapes as manipulated to facilitate political power. In the conception and construction of the massive Akosombo Dam in the traditional area of the Akwamu people in southern Ghana, Nkrumah attempted to reshape society through the control of water. Local Akwamu people have different visions about who can control water, how water can (or sometimes cannot) be controlled, and how deities are the most authoritative actors in any human engagements with water and its flow. Akwamu understandings of hydro-sociality can be seen as a critique of Wittfogelian models of hydraulic societies. I also draw on the work of Fontein and also Keane, to suggest how water's 'indexical' (causal or connective) relationship to power is always a matter of contest, and water's material properties means it ultimately escapes definitive human control.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1161-1178
    JournalEnvironment and Planning C: Politics and Space
    Issue number7
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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