The author develops a conceptualization of power to examine if, how, and where power relations—specifically those related to gender and class—are disrupted or stabilized when renewable energy systems and their new institutional arrangements are introduced in rural communities. The author then seeks to determine the overall impact of these disruptions or stabilizations on social equality.
Based on the empirical study of a small-scale hydropower project implemented by an international development organization in Mawengi, Tanzania, the author theorizes how electrification processes and power relations are mutually constituted. This paper illustrates seven steps in the process of rural electrification and their effects on local society, revealing a range of interfaces, interactions, and feedbacks that have material and social effects. Using extensive interview data, the author examines the steps of the Mawengi hydropower project, with the goal of understanding: (1) the relationship between actors involved and how they exercised power in the process, (2) the role of non-human agents, and (3) sources of stabilization and destabilization of social hierarchies.
The author found that the introduction of electricity services resulted in growing social inequality in parallel with enhanced social mobility at an individual level. The author discusses how purposeful acts to limit the influence of local elites in the electrification process destabilized the community further even as electricity consumers and utility members became more important social actors. The author suggests these new actors can use their position to promote or prevent local socioeconomic inclusion in future utility projects.