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Accepted Paper:

Pondering land: fishponds and land-in-the-making on the waterfront of Semarang  
Marie Belland (University of Amsterdam)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper engages with the speculative acquisition of subsiding and submerged coastal spaces in Semarang, Indonesia. Ethnographically following the reciprocal anticipations in which fishpond ruination is enmeshed, I interrogate the possibility of land-making through capitalist reclamation.

Paper Abstract:

This paper examines Semarang’s particular instance of waterfront speculation, in which what is speculated is not only a fluctuation in land prices, but also the very possibility of land-making.

Marshy coastal landscapes around Semarang are neither fully liquid nor solid. It is a waterscape fertile precisely because of fishponds that blur distinctions between land and ocean, freshwater, and saltwater. Despite being increasingly polluted and submerged because of the combined impacts of pollutants, coastal erosion, and subsidence, the price of fishponds is increasing fast.

In this paper, I draw on descriptions of “environmental speculation” (Colven, 2022) - the process in which the expected ruination of coastal ecologies and livelihoods opens ways to capitalist capture driven by industrial and state projects - to better understand this speculative coastal urbanization.

Following Cortesi’s definition of land as “an economic expectation, based on the presumption of stability” (2022:217), this paper attends to the more-than-human speculative labor of conjuring and assembling (Li, 2014) land in the westernmost area of Semarang.

It first traces historical continuities in projects of ponds stabilization infused with concerns for securing Semarang’s surrounds. Second, it turns to the alliance that allows a local real estate developer to systematically acquire fishponds. This precarious assemblage brings together knowledgeable local brokers, crossed anticipations, depleted aquifers, incentives for land certification, long-tendered influence on selected public agencies, the project of a giant seawall, and, on some occasions, violence. The paper concludes with a reflection on the persistent incompleteness of land-making projects in coastal Semarang.

Panel P171
Waterfront speculation: doing and undoing maritime urban spaces
  Session 2 Wednesday 24 July, 2024, -