Structure and agency in development-induced forced migration: the case of Brazil’s Belo Monte Dam

Heather Randell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


This paper examines how structure and agency interact to shape forced migration outcomes. Specifically, I ask how structural factors such as compensation policies as well as social, financial, and human capital may either foster or constrain migration aspirations and capabilities. I use longitudinal, semi-structured interview data to study forced migration among farmers 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 cacao farmers or cattle ranchers. 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. Despite these constraints, most migrants succeeded in attaining aspirations, as they were able to mobilize resources such as social networks, financial capital, skills, and knowledge. These findings highlight the importance of considering the relationship between structure and agency within forced migration research. I conclude by discussing how the findings may inform resettlement policies for future cases of development- or environment-induced forced migration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-287
Number of pages23
JournalPopulation and Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


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