Presentations at the 12th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 12)

Japan, Kyoto (24-27 August 2021)


Panel-II: Pluralizing Southern Waterfronts: Affects, Politics, Transgressions



Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, Postdoctoral researcher, Leibniz Centre for Tropical 
Marine Research,

Bremen, Germany

Alin Kadfak, Postdoctoral researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences,
Uppsala, Sweden


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.



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.

Theorising the waterfrontscape: Exploring social injustice in urbanising cities of the Global South



Alin Kadfak, Postdoctoral researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences,
Uppsala, Sweden


Waterfront is a particular interesting geographical space where land meets water (river or sea). The instability of waterfront in urban context simultaneously marks the point of contention between different waterfront users, often consisting of a mix of urban rich and poor from various social groups. In Global South, often the urban poor have less access to the state with reduced ability to uphold legal land titles which depends on having extensive resources and strong political connection. The habitats, and in many cases the livelihoods, of the urban poor rely on fluctuating spaces on the land/water boundary but also straddling ambiguous legal criteria. The urban rich may have the upper hand on land titles and legal procedures but are far from superior in these uncertain and highly contingent processes. This article aims to theorise waterfrontscape in Global South to help unpacking complexity of water-land hybrid nature, historical attribute and social processes during urbanization processes. To theorise waterfrontscape, I draw on three bodies of literature; ‘land-water nexus’, ‘waterscape’ and ‘everyday politics’, which allow to discuss unsettle issues of hybrid nature of land and water, contestation, marginalisation, everyday practices and governance. I attempt to make a conversation between Urban Political Ecology scholars, whom involve socionatural understanding of urban making with historical and geographical of space, and Urban Studies scholars, whom centre their arguments in the everydayness and contestation of diverse urban dwellers. Waterfrontscape can provide a lens to study fragmented social injustice in urbanising space of the Global South.

Between land and lagoon: Oscillations of life on Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean

Lakshmi .jpg


Lakshmi Pradeep Rajeswary, PhD candidate, South Asia Studies Programme,

National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore

In tune with the relational thinking in island studies, this paper engages with the fluidity and viscerality of the sea in an island world (DeLoughrey, 2007). It is derived from snippets of ethnography conducted on the Lakshadweep Islands in the Indian Ocean. On Lakshadweep, the boundaries of habitation are imagined under water, unlike estimations on land. It gets determined through the grains of sand that keeps shifting within the lagoon encapsulated by each coral atoll. According to the islanders, the floating sand leads to island growth whereas a rupture in the reef wall can lead to erosion. The aqueous and porous nature of the reef co-constitutes island life. The lagoons are a lively space for recreation, fishing and community activities. The lagoon waters do not insulate an island from its sand banks or neighboring islets. This fosters a deterrestrialised understanding of an island. The paper further argues that the lived materiality of the islanders constantly oscillates between erosion and accumulation of sand, fragility and resilience of corals and subsequent hope and despair on island growth and submergence. These ambiguities addressed in the paper are significant in situating an island in the Anthropocene by challenging the existing terrestrial tropes of isolation and marginalization.

Agency and Solidarity in the 1990 Anti-Shrimp Movement of Khulna, Bangladesh



Moyukh Mahtab, Project Partner, Southern Collective

In November 1990, Karunamoyee Sarder was killed while leading a protest against the introduction of shrimp farms in Polder 22, Khulna, Bangladesh. From the 1980s, with the rising global demand for shrimp, coastal Bangladesh witnessed a rapid expansion of commercial shrimp aquaculture. While the Blue Revolution discourse, combined with national development priorities, incentivised the expansion of aquaculture, the industry in reality entailed severe socioeconomic and environmental impacts for coastal communities, affecting their access to resources and livelihoods. In Bangladesh, the industry’s operation has been accompanied by severe human rights abuses as well. Following the attack on Karunamoyee and other protestors by goons hired by a shrimp farm owner, the continued mobilisation of the community evolved into a mass movement, drawing supporters from political parties and civil society organizations. To date Polder 22 has remained a shrimp-free zone and thousands gather each year to commemorate Karunamoyee as a martyr. What started as a reaction of the community’s experience of shrimp’s destructive impacts in surrounding areas has since become a prominent story within the environmental discourse against the industry. Using first-hand testimony of participants, my account of the movement focusses on the complexities of their politics, and contextualizes that within the social, economic and political contexts of the time. This microhistory thus tries to see the movement at multiple levels, revealing the contesting imaginations and aspirations of the coastal region, the industry in the moral economy of the communities, the networks and relationships through which the movement evolved, and what Karunamoyee represents for them today. Through this, I try to highlight how national and global politics are refracted and transform local situations—in the process complicating both.

In the Wake of Law: Legal waterfronts and its effects on maritime environmentalism in India



Aarthi Sridhar, PhD Candidate, University of Amsterdam and

Programme Head, Dakshin Foundation

In the Indian Ocean region, state-led coastal planning and management is only a few decades old but has shaped ideals and values regarding coastal waterfrontscapes. Through the emerging marine environmentalism of the late twentieth century, in developing countries such as India, the waterfront, the foreshore, the coast, sea and other marine aquatic elements attracted a flotsam of meanings created through specialist laws, policy practice and environmental activism in and outside courtrooms. Each engagement with law led to successive actions that fix, modify or revise the nature and function of these elements. The widespread impression among environmentalists and green courts in India is that environmental laws are poorly implemented, not taken seriously and have had little consequence. The paper highlights the unintended effects of coastal legislation in India to suggest unmapped effects on practices of  environmentalism, and in producing facts about coastal spaces. The paper draws from the author's personal observations and participation in coastal activism. It is also informed by a rich repository of legal judgements and texts on experiences with coastal governance in India. 

The bi-polar waterfront: The making of antipodal shorelines in subsiding Jakarta



Rapti Siriwardane-de Zoysa, Researcher, Department for Social Sciences,

Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT), Germany

One of the most visible and enduring features in the history of urban planning since the 1950s has been the unparalleled expansion of metropolitan waterfronts around the world. This presentation explores the dichotomous meanings and everyday practices of a particular nature-cultural space – the reclaimed shoreline –in contemporary Jakarta, dubbed as one of the world’s fastest ‘sinking’ cities due to land subsidence. While narratives of loss and reclamation intersect in Jakarta’s infrastructural future-making, often speculatively valorizing grand projects (e.g., the Great Garuda), this presentation considers the prevalence of communal ‘small acts’ – of adaptation to socio-environmental change, and of transgressive moments in vernacular place-making and dwelling. In particular, we focus on the practice nimbun (or self-reclamation) in which heaps of old household material are reused in terraforming fluid spaces along flood-prone shorelines on which the megacity’s northern kampungs and informal settlements lie.  At its core, we explore how the silent work of such economies of discard on the one hand, and speculative infrastructures on the other create diverse margins and coastal fringes of a metropolis. Not only do such lively sites bear witness to fast gentrifying littoral space, but also offers a vantage point in which to rethink the fracturedness and ‘bi-polarity’ of the contemporary southern waterfront, replete with its multiple, intersecting antipodes – of dry and watery territory-making, of affluence and marginality, of hubbing and peripheralization, and of grand projects and of vernacular practices.