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Oberlin College

Publication Date

Fall 2021

Program Name

Portugal: Sustainability and Environmental Justice


In 2002, the residents of Aldeia da Luz left their village for the final time, displaced to make room for the Alqueva Dam, a massive regional hydropower and irrigation project almost half a century in the making. The Alqueva Multipurpose Project was marketed by the Portuguese government as a way to develop the impoverished region of the Alentejo and bring innovation to the agricultural sector. The village of Luz was the only physical obstacle to this goal and, therefore, its residents were dispossessed, sacrificed for the development of the greater Alentejo region. However, unlike many other large-scale infrastructure projects that displace populations, the developers of the dam attempted to compensate the residents by reconstructing the village elsewhere. Through analysis of the diverging discourses on the dam and the displacement of Luz this paper compares and examines the perspectives of the residents of Luz, government officials, and residents of the greater Alentejo region on the Alqueva Dam and the displacement of Luz. Using archival news recordings, video testimony, transcribed interviews, and documentary footage, this paper analyzes the displacement of Luz through a lens of critical environmental justice and the Marxist concept of accumulation by dispossession. The application of critical environmental justice and the concept of accumulation by dispossession show that existing distributive and procedural justice mechanisms failed to adequately protect the residents of Luz or prevent developers from benefiting from their dispossession. As Portugal, and the world at large, transitions to renewable energy, these lessons from the displacement of Aldeia da Luz are critical to learn from in order to prevent the further reproduction of unequal power dynamics in future renewable infrastructure projects.


Environmental Studies | European History | European Languages and Societies | Human Ecology | Portuguese Literature | Power and Energy | Social Justice | Water Resource Management


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