Structure and Agency in Development-Induced Forced Migration: The Case of Brazil's Belo Monte Dam

Heather F. Randell, Brown University

Understanding agency is key within environmental migration. This paper examines how migrant agency and structural constraints interact to shape the forced migration process. I use longitudinal, qualitative data to study forced migration among an agricultural population displaced by the Belo Monte Dam in the Brazilian Amazon. Results from baseline interviews indicate that nearly all community members aspired to purchase rural land in the region and maintain livelihoods as farmers. Constraints limiting the ability to attain aspirations included strict requirements on land titles for properties, delays in receiving compensation, rising land prices, and the lack of power to negotiate for better compensation. Follow-up interviews suggest that factors enabling migrants to achieve aspirations included wealth and strong social and family networks. These results indicate that agency plays a key role in forced migration, and that poor households with limited support networks should be targeted for resettlement assistance during the migration process.

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Presented in Session 113: Environmental Change, Migration, and Adaptation