Lives on the line: The future of coastal infrastructure

Arne Harms (University Leipzig)
Lukas Ley (Heidelberg University)
Jason Cons, University of Texas at Austin
British Museum - Sackler A
Sunday 7 June, 11:00-12:30

Short abstract:

This panel considers coastal protection as vivid social sites where variously situated actors converge. Engaging them as heterogenous, globalized real-world labs, and addressing power and aspirations at all levels, it aims at developing new analytics of coastal protection infrastructures.

Long abstract:

As many nations are facing rising sea levels while battling with degraded drainage systems, coastal protection infrastructures seem increasingly important. Proponents of protective infrastructure consider hard infrastructure, such as breakwaters, or engineered ecosystems as effective means to manage acute disasters, such as storms surges or floods, as well as slow or chronic problems caused by erosion or the salinization of drinking water. Despite the specter of climate change, everywhere shores are being aggressively developed into real estate markets and tourist destinations. More and more cities invest in coastal protection infrastructure, most famously perhaps the Indonesia metropolis Jakarta. These infrastructures are going up and are becoming more massive in scale, sidelining evidence that show the negative impacts of man-made shore protection. While coastal infrastructures are rooted in space and embedded in local ecologies, they are also uniquely globalized sites. They attract globally circulating expertise, capital, and are the objects of political contestation. As such, they raise interesting questions of scale and commensurability. We consider infrastructures as vivid social sites where variously situated actors come together. Who are these actors; who does coastal infrastructure work for; how do they change a place? This panel invites authors to present ethnographic data of such infrastructure from across the world. Our goal is to consider coastal infrastructure as an epistemological and political challenge. Drawing on both anthropology and geography, we wish to develop new analytics of coastal protection infrastructure.