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“Site Fights”: Explaining Opposition to Pipeline Projects in the Developing World1


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    We owe the clever phrase, “site fights,” to Daniel P. Aldrich, who recently published a book entitled Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West (2008, Cornell University Press). No piece of published scholarship ever depends on the authors alone, but in this case, our debt to others is much greater than normal. This article is only a small part of a much larger, ongoing project that has drawn on the labors of a large number of faculty and graduate students at Stanford University. Our first and largest debt of gratitude goes to all the graduate students (and a few courageous undergraduates) who have participated in the project. These include: Henry Chan, Cheryl Chi, Mo Peng, Andrew Peterman, Linh Pham, Amanda Sharkey, Meg Waltner, and Amy Javernick Will. But no graduate student deserves more thanks for help on the project than Dilanka Clinthana “D.C.” Jayasundera. Not only has D.C. been involved in the project from the outset, but he has also served as one of two principal coders and data analysts on this particular piece of research. Stanford was the source, not only for faculty and graduate student collaborators, but for critical funding support as well. Without a seed grant from the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, we would never have been able to undertake the research in the first place. In collecting data on our 16 cases, we benefited enormously from information given to us by informants affiliated with a number of NGOs and lenders with personal knowledge of the projects we were seeking to understand. We also owe a great deal to the late Richard Burt, who advised on the project up until his untimely death in 2007. From Rick, we learned about the dynamics of infrastructure projects from the firm point of view. Finally, we cannot say enough about the help, advice, and patient counsel we received from Charles Ragin as we sought to employ his comparative case method as the analytic basis for our research.


Fifty years ago, the main challenges to large infrastructure projects were technical or scientific. Today, the greatest hurdles faced by such projects are almost always social and/or political. Whether constructing large dams in the developing world or siting liquefied natural gas terminals in the United States, the onset of these projects often triggers intense popular opposition. But not always, and therein lays the animating aim of this project. We undertake a systematic comparative case analysis of mobilization efforts against 11 oil and gas pipeline projects spanning 16 countries in the developing world. Using theories from the social movement and facility siting literatures and the technique of fuzzy set/qualitative comparative analysis (fs/QCA), we examine the “causal conditions” linked to political and legal opposition to these projects. We find that both Western funding of projects and public consultation serve as necessary political opportunities encouraging mobilization. In addition, not compensating the host country for involvement in the project is linked to mobilization. Finally, some risk from the project, in the form of environmental or social impact, is associated with mobilization; however, this impact does not have to be very significant for mobilization to occur.