Epistemic Mobilities and the Governance of Environmental Risks in Island Southeast Asia (EMERSA)


Brief project overview

EMERSA (Epistemic Mobilities and the Governance of Environmental Risks in Island Southeast Asia) explores how governance policy interventions and social practices, together with standardized 'recipes' and solutions for living with the effects of sea level change in coastal megacities (that are advocated by states, international donors, and civil society organizations) are taken up, contextually translated, politically legitimized and at times re-circulated internationally by local actors.

Furthermore, by analyzing coastal megacities as laboratories for anticipatory processes of collective un/re-learning for risk governance, the project contributes to new currents in transformation research and practice. It does so by exploring how diverse socio-natural knowledges and epistemologies (i.e. ways of seeing, sense-making, and place-making), together with material infrastructures, shape localized ways of perceiving and living with coastal change.

With a focus on three Southeast Asian megacities, namely Jakarta, Manila, and Singapore, the project entails close collaboration with local partners crosscutting Universitas Indonesia, the University of Asia and the Pacific, and the National University of Singapore.

The interdisciplinary study combines several core conceptual and thematic currents crosscutting the sociology of knowledge, human geography, urban planning, coastal anthropology, and political ecology.

Download the project poster here.

What are Epistemic Mobilities?

The travels of material artefacts, discourses, imaginaries and social practices across multiple levels and scales are referred to as 'epistemic (im)mobilities'.

These circulating discourses and practices are important in themselves for understanding the governance of environmental risks and uncertainties, for they possess the agency to influence policy trajectories, break timeworn path dependencies and push for transformative change on the one hand, or to legitimate known orthodoxies on the other. Thus, the project also focuses on patterns of immobility, as traveling policies and institutional infrastructures chart not only multiple pathways for transformation, but also lead up to processes of collective unlearning, as older ideas and practices may be recurrently questioned.

Research questions

The study asks the following questions: how (a) significant mobile policies and government programmes (dispositifs), (b) standardized socio-technological practices of change adaptation that are communicated by donor and civil society organizations, and are politically legitimized, (re)interpreted, culturally translated and at times re-circulated, in ways that enable or hinder localized anticipatory learning trajectories in the face of projected sea level rise. In this light, the project also traces how diverse coastalscapes are socio-politically imagined and 'futured' across Island Southeast Asia.

The focus lies on how travelling policies (i.e. flood management plans) and practices (i.e. construction of seawalls) structure trans-local social learning for change adaptation, and further guides action towards the implementation of risk governance in and between the three cities of Jakarta, Manila, and Singapore.

Conceptual approaches

The conceptual approaches we iteratively work with include:

Communicative and Discursive Constructivism (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Reichertz, 2010; Knoblauch, 2013);

the Sociology of Knowledge Approach to Discourse or SKAD (Keller, 2005 & 2011);

Political geographies of travelling ideas and models (McCann, 2011; Cochrane & Ward, 2010; Behrends et al. 2014; Weisser et al. 2014; Hornidge & Mielke, 2016) and;

Sociological theories on processes and practices of socio-cultural translation for collective un/learning.

Furthermore EMERSA aims at mid-range concept development by theorizing on what epistemic mobilities could be taken to mean, and by elucidating the many ways of studying them.


EMERSA researchers bring a range of diverse methodologies and analytical frames into the project, including discourse and narrative analysis, in-depth ethnographic approaches, oral and life history work, Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) frames, as well as other geographically inspired modes of inquiry. Moreover, the project aims at advancing a ground-up approach that we term as 'follow-the-moving-target' methodologies, which enable the tracing of multiple mobilities and influences of material and non-material, tangible as well as intangible subjects that travel - from infrastructures and technologies to imaginaries and discourses.


Work Packages of the EMERSA project

EMERSA entails three Work Packages (WPs):

WP 1: Policy Mobilities and Translations (led by Prof. Dr. Michael Flitner)

WP 2: Practices of Risk Governance and Local Meaning Constructions (led by Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge)

WP 0: Mid-range concept building on Epistemic Mobilities and Social Learning for Change Adaptation (co-led by Professors Hornidge & Flitner).

Publications of the EMERSA project: 


Siriwardane-de Zoysa, R., Schöne, T., Herbeck, J., Illigner, J., Haghighi, M., Simarmata, H., Porio, E., Rovere, A & Hornidge, A-K. (submitted) The Wickedness of Governing Land Subsidence: Policy Perspectives from Urban Southeast Asia. Submitted to PLOS One.

Siriwardane-de Zoysa, Rapti (2020), Beyond the Wall: Dying as an object of everyday governance in the Bay of Manila, Marine Policy, 112, doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103661.

Herbeck, J., and M. Flitner (2019), Infrastructuring coastal futures: Key trajectories in Southeast Asian megacities, DIE ERDE–Journal of the Geographical Society of Berlin, 150(3), 118-130.

Siriwardane-de Zoysa, R., I.S. Fitrinitia, and J. Herbeck (2018), Watery Incursions: The Securitisation of Everyday 'Flood Cultures' in Metro Manila and Coastal Jakarta, International Quarterly for Asian Studies, 49 (1-2), 105-126.

Flitner, M. (2017). Grüne Infrastruktur und die Erneuerung städtischer Naturen. In M. Flitner, J. Lossau & A.-L. Müller (Eds.), Infrastrukturen der Stadt (pp. 45-64). Wiesbaden: Springer VS.


Related project at the 2nd SPP SeaLevel phase:



Principal Investigators:


Prof. Dr. Anna-Katharina Hornidge

Department of Social Sciences (Head)

Working Group 'Development & Knowledge Sociology' (Head)

Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) &

University of Bremen, Institute of Sociology

Fahrenheitstrasse 6 (Office: Wienerstr. 7, Top Floor)

28359 Bremen, Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 421 238 00 168

Fax +49 (0) 421 238 00 30

Email: anna-katharina.hornidge(at)leibniz-zmt.de

Links: Ocean Governance for Sustainability (An EU COST Action) (Chair)

Worlds of Contradiction

Crossroads Asia



Prof. Dr. Michael Flitner

artec Sustainability Research Center (Chair)

Universität Bremen

Postfach 33 04 40

28334 Bremen, Germany 

Office: Seminar- und Forschungsverfügungsgebäude (SFG)

Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7

28359 Bremen, Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 421 218 61 844

Fax +49 (0) 421 218 9861844

Email: flitner(at)uni-bremen.de

Related projects: 

New Regional Formations (Volkswagen Stiftung)

ZenTraClim: Climate Change and Transnational Policy (Stiftung Mercator)

Upstream-downstream linkages and new instruments in coastal and watershed governance (SPICE III) (BMBF)


Postdoctoral Researchers:


 EMERSA Work Package I: Policies

Dr. Johannes Herbeck 

artec Sustainability Research Center 

Universität Bremen

Postfach 33 04 40

28334 Bremen, Germany 

Office: Seminar- und Forschungsverfügungsgebäude (SFG)

Enrique-Schmidt-Straße 7

28359 Bremen, Germany

Tel. +49 (0) 421 218 61 833

Fax +49 (0) 421 218 9861833

Email: johannes.herbeck(at)uni-bremen.de

Link: New Regional Formations (Scientific Coordinator)


EMERSA Work Package II: Practices

Dr. Rapti Siriwardane

Scientific Coordinator, EMERSA

Social Sciences Department, Development and Knowledge Sociology Working Group

Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT)

Fahrenheitstrasse 6 (Office: Wienerstr. 7, Top Floor)

28359 Bremen, Germany

Tel. +49 (0) 421 238 00 174

Fax +49 (0) 421 238 00 30

Email: rapti.siriwardane(at)leibniz-zmt.de


Project partners:

  • Jakarta, Indonesia:

Dr. Hendricus Andy Simarmata

Universitas Indonesia

Postgraduate Program Building 4th Floor

Jalan Salemba Raya Road No. 4

Jakarta Pusat 10430, Indonesia

Tel.: +62 21 391 5238

Fax: +62 21 390 5824

Email: hendricus.andy(at)ui.ac.id or simarmata.andy(at)yahoo.com


  • Manila, Philippines:

Dr. Elizabeth Urgel

Chair, Department of Asia Pacific Studies

University of Asia and the Pacific

Pearl Drive, Ortigas Center

Pasig City 1600, Philippines

Tel.: +63 2 0912

Email: elizabeth.urgel(at)uap.asia


  • Singapore:

Dr. Kelvin E.Y. Low

Associate Professor/Deputy Head of Department

Department of Sociology (AS 1 # 03-19)

National University of Singapore

10 Kent Ridge Crescent,

Singapore 119260

Tel: +65 6516 6111

Fax: +65 6777 9579

Email: socleyk(at)nus.edu.sg