The techno-politics of big infrastructure and the Chinese water machine

Brittany Crow-Miller, Michael Webber, Sarah Rogers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Despite widespread recognition of the problems caused by relying on engineering approaches to water management issues, since 2000 China has raised its commitment to a concrete-heavy approach to water management. While, historically, China's embrace of modernist water management could be understood as part of a broader set of ideas about controlling nature, in the post-reform era this philosophical view has merged with a technocratic vision of national development. In the past two decades, a Chinese Water Machine has coalesced: the institutional embodiment of China's commitment to large infrastructure. The technocratic vision of the political and economic elite at the helm of this Machine has been manifest in the form of some of the world's largest water infrastructure projects, including the Three Gorges Dam and the South-North Water Transfer Project, and in the exporting of China's vision of concrete-heavy development beyond its own borders. This paper argues that China's approach to water management is best described as a techno-political regime that extends well beyond infrastructure, and is fundamentally shaped by both past choices and current political-economic conditions. Emerging from this regime, the Chinese Water Machine is one of the forces driving the (re)turn to big water infrastructure globally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-249
Number of pages17
JournalWater Alternatives
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • China
  • Infrastructure
  • South-north transfer
  • Techno-politics
  • Water development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The techno-politics of big infrastructure and the Chinese water machine'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this