The Storied Worlds of Asia’s Deltas and Estuaries: Pluralizing Southern Waterfronts

Presentations at the 12th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 12) Japan, Kyoto (24-27 August 2021) PANEL II Panel-II: Pluralizing Southern Waterfronts: Affects, Politics, Transgressions

The unifying feature of this panel is its distinct focus on the lived materialities of/around littoral waterfronts in all their diversity, while remaining distinct to the Indian Ocean world(s). Oceanic waterfronts are more than just the sum of their edges, boundaries and peripheries. Socio-spatially, waterfronts are continually contested and remade as cultural "coasts" and human "shores" (Mack, 2011; Gillis, 2015), presenting lively margins, hubs, and conduits of immense change and flux. First, considering the multiple ways in which their depths and voluminalities play out (of land, sea, tectonic and atmospheric interactions), they stand as sites of intense socio-ecological hybridity, liminality and dynamism (Sammler, 2019). Second, it is the inherent instability of fluid waterfronts that render them sites of contestation where relations of power play out, as diverse user groups endeavor to interpret these ambiguities to their own advantage and wellbeing. Contemporary policies and approaches to coastal planning attempt to fix, stabilize and terrestrialize waterfronts for real estate, enhance land productivity and industrial development. In material-symbolic terms, the waterfront could be read as a culturally morphing/shape-shifting "scape" in itself, in which its groundedness (e.g., through dredging, reclamation)., remains overwhelmingly acknowledged, whereas its ‘fluid’ shapeshifting counterpart remains barely studied. Therefore, our panel invites theoretically and empirically-grounded contributions that inspire varied ways of pluralizing southern waterfronts. We foreground our conversations around questions of how southern waterfronts are imaginatively framed, materialized, embodied, and lived – in ways that make them continually evolving spaces for socio-environmental change across diverse regions of Indian Ocean.

co-convenors: R. Siriwardane and Alin Kadfak (SLU, Uppsala), together with Chitra Venkataramani’s (NUS, Singapore) panel ‘From Mud to Monsoons’ (funded by the SSRC’s Indian Ocean Collaboratories' project, Southern Collective), 24-27 August, 2021.

Paper title: ‘The bi-polar waterfront: The making of antipodal shorelines in northern Jakarta

   Recorded content will be freely shared after the event.



Gillis, J. R. (2012). The Human Shore: Seacoasts in History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mack, J. (2013). The Sea: A Cultural History. Reaktion Books.

Sammler, K. G. (2019). The rising politics of sea level: demarcating territory in a vertically relative world. Territory, Politics, Governance, 1-17.

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