Aquatic ontologies: deltas and development in Southeast Asia
Atsuro Morita (Osaka University)
Casper Bruun Jensen
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores co-existing delta infrastructures and ontologies in Mainland Southeast Asia. Delta infrastructures are not technical systems: they also embed different cosmological dimensions. The notion of delta ontologies captures the dynamic interplay between infrastructure and cosmology.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores co-existing but contrasting delta infrastructures and ontologies in postcolonial Mainland Southeast Asia. As a landform shaped by river deposits, a delta is an intermediary place between land and sea. In the Western tradition of geomorphology and land reclamation, deltas have been viewed as manifesting the capacity of rivers to shape land, and as forces that extend the terrestrial world into the sea. In contrast, traditional "galactic polities" in Southeast Asia conceived deltas along the major rivers as extensions of the sea into land. As such, deltas were crucially important spaces for the overseas trade upon which these polities depended. Traditional forms of infrastructure and city planning, such as canals and houses on stilts, often characterized as amphibious, organized the deltaic landscape by focusing on the watercourses. Meanwhile, modern irrigation networks and flood barriers installed in the 20th century have 'terrestrialized' this amphibious landscape through infrastructure development centering on road networks and concrete buildings. In important ways incommensurable, these terrestrially and aquatically oriented infrastructures co-exist and intermingle in South East Asian deltas today. We argue that these infrastructures cannot be understood only as technical systems with different historical and political origins. In addition, they instantiate and enact different cosmological dimensions. The notion of delta ontologies aims to capture the dynamic interplay between infrastructure and ontology.
Multiple nature-cultures and diverse anthropologies (CLOSED)