The Indian Ocean world is one that is connected not just by its oceans but by a number of transboundary, transoceanic entities. These might be termed ‘resources’, but are equally seen as circulating, accumulating, shared or migrating objects, animals, living and non-living beings. The term resources is usually reserved for things that appear to have value for humans. Acknowledging this, we see these resources first as constructions of meanings around objects and further, as being dependent on its relation with other objects and phenomena. For instance, coastal beach sand becomes a resource in relation to its absence (and demand) in other places, its perceived function for coastal livelihoods and protection from natural disasters.


Tuna or maas meen, Lakshadweep 

Presentations at the 12th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 12) Japan, Kyoto (24-27 August 2021)

The following papers will be presented at the upcoming 21st ICAS conference in Kyoto as a double panel entitled "The Storied Life of Asia’s Deltas and Estuaries: Pluralizing Southern Waterfronts."

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



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

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


While the former panel puts into conversation the lived worlds of fresh- and brackish waters, the unifying feature of this panel is its distinct focus on the lived materialities of/around littoral waterfronts in all their diversity across 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.

“The bi-polar waterfront: The making of antipodal shorelines in Colombo’s Port City”



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. While much has been written on practices of place-making, aesthetics, and of the broader politics steering local waterfront initiatives, scant attention has been paid to the transcultural knowledge(s) and embodied sensibilities of living with (or without) the presence of water, particularly in maritime city spaces that have often evolved through distinct colonial and neoliberal historiographies. This presentation explores the dichotomous meanings of metropolitan shorelines themselves – through what can be termed as the “bi-polar waterfront” in contemporary Asian cities. They embody both sites of leisure and of excess consumption on the one hand, and of danger, squalor and deprivation on the other. Here, I draw on the case of Sri Lanka ́s politicized Chinese-funded foreshore reclamation project, the Port City in its commercial capital. First, I ask how symbolic meanings of shored place-making have historically evolved particularly in relation to its post-colonial and democratic socialist trajectory of coastal (re)development. Second, through a cultural studies perspective, the divergent meanings of water, crosscutting fluid and the grounded are explored by asking with what consequences these have challenged and re-produced dominant narratives of complicity and resistance for and beyond the urban littoral.

“In the Wake of Law: Legal waterfronts and its effects on maritime environmentalism in India (1980-2020)”



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. However, this paper argues that the effect of coastal legislation in India has had far reaching effects producing new maritime environmentalisms and in producing facts about marine nature and imaginations of our relations with these spaces. The paper draws from a rich repository of legal judgements and environmental advocacy and activism on coastal space use, tracing its after effects and influence into the lived experience and environmentality among coastal communities and local conservation NGOs decades thereafter.

Agency and Solidarity in the 1990 Anti-Shrimp Movement of Polder 22, Khulna, Bangladesh



Moyukh Mahtab, Programme Organiser, Documentation and Communication Team,

Nijera Kori

From the 1980s, due to the rising global demand for shrimp, coastal Bangladesh has witnessed profound transformations in terms of access to and use of land and water, affecting coastal communities’ livelihoods. While the Blue Revolution discourse, combined with national development priorities, has incentivised the expansion of shrimp aquaculture, with promises of livelihood opportunities for communities, the industry has caused severe environmental destruction and widespread human rights abuses. Through an empirically grounded study of how the Anti-Shrimp movement of Polder 22 in the Khulna area of Bangladesh took off, my paper will highlight broader issues of coastal communities’ politics—aspiration, motivations regarding access to and use of natural resources—in conflict with national and international development priorities. The 1990 Anti-Shrimp movement of Khulna witnessed the murder of a landless woman, Karunamoyee Sarder, during a protest march against the industry’s expansion. This culminated in a mass movement, drawing supporters from political and civil society actors. Using oral narratives, the microhistory of the movement highlights the complexities of peasant and fisher community agency, and the solidarity that constituted their act of resistance within the broader socio-economic and political context of the time. This paper will also look at how the southern waterfront of Bangladesh remains a continually evolving spaces of socio-environmental change where subaltern resistance keeps fighting brutal capitalist demands.