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A Dam Tale: Using Institutional Logics in a Case-study on Water Rights in the Canadian Coastal Mountains


Speaker:Thomas Schneider, Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Management
Date: Wednesday 4 May 2016
Time: 14:30 - 16:00
Location: Kolade Teaching Room, Building One

Further details

In 1950, the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan) was given a perpetual water license for a large section of Northern British Columbia, Canada. It built a large dam and the dam and water rights are currently owned by mega-mining company Rio Tinto, which purchased Alcan in 2008. The benefit to the original owner of the water rights, the Province of British Columbia, was economic and population growth. This paper follows the contestation over these rights from 1948 to 2016. An institutional logics perspective is taken to analyze the main actors and how their relative power changes in the institutional field over time. In our inter-temporal setting, many of the actors and institutions that were fringe in 1950 are now in more dominant positions. For example the local First Nation, the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, were simply flooded off of their land to make way for Alcan’s dam. Currently, they are very powerful players in the institutional field that includes Rio Tinto (Alcan) and the various levels of government, among others. A vast amount of archival data and selected interviews are mapped to the ideal-type institutional logics of Thornton et al. 2012. We find that the perpetual rights given to Alcan make it dominant as an actor across all time periods, even if there is a strong desire to change the institutional field. Commensuration is discussed in the context of how public goods such as water rights will have different values over time and also different values based on which actor is doing the commensuration. The building of large dams has been used worldwide to provide power to fuel industrial growth. Our setting provides insight into the long-term outcomes of using water rights in this way.