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Accepted Paper:

Unbuilt infrastructures in Southeast Asia: Reading the rumors of the Kra Canal  
Tenn Joe Lim (Graduate Center, City University of New York)

Paper short abstract:

Unbuilt infrastructures in Southeast Asia offer a different understanding to Singapore's national development. Reading the rumors of Kra Canal and S. Rajaratnam's Global City speech, this paper untangles notions of unbuilt/planned, failure/insecurity to study the narratives of globalization.

Paper long abstract:

The oft-proposed Kra Canal is a massive construction project that seeks to transform the Kra Isthmus in Thailand into a waterway that would connect the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, and onwards to the Pacific Ocean. The cutting of the isthmus is seen as an alternative to the Straits of Malacca, a waterway that holds the traffic of Singapore’s global trade. Despite already proven to be unprofitable, unfeasible, and ecologically destructive, it still continues to be recognized and pitched as a possible solution to the crisis impeding global maritime trade. The “failure” of the Kra Canal has always been painted by its proponents as the lack of available technology or resources, but this narrative elides the political and social explanations of its difficulty.

Drawing on Carse et al and Rankin’s ideas on unbuilt infrastructures and zombie projects, the Kra Canal offers a glimpse into the life of an infrastructural fantasy and how it shapes colonial and nationalist insecurity. A narrative on the speculation about “nonsense” and a country with no resources (Rajaratnam, 1972), as well as a meditation on unbuilt or unrealized infrastructures (Carse et al, 2020; Rankin, 2017) and oceanic geographies (Amrith, 2015; Khalili; 2020), this paper analyses the unlikely confluence between disparate discourses of the rumors of the Kra Canal and Singapore’s national development strategy of Global City. Thus, the Kra Canal, when read as a shadow history, considers how infrastructural vulnerability is intertwined with narratives of globalization and visions for nation building in Southeast Asia.

Panel P006a
Logistical Transformations: Supply Chains and the Politics of Circulation I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -