Accepted Paper:

An Upwelling from the Past? The Tidal Flood Crisis in Semarang, Indonesia  


Lukas Ley (Heidelberg University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses a politics of time that shapes the coastal wetlands of Semarang, a coastal metropolis of Indonesia. Are recent tidal floods an “upwelling from times long past” (Trumbull 2013) that questions the violence of swamp modernization?

Paper long abstract:

Inspired by recent crisis studies, this paper addresses two questions: what happens to dominant frameworks of time in the event of crisis and what social processes and dynamics prevent the creative making of futures - even or especially in the event of crisis? To answer these questions, the paper draws on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Indonesia between 2014-15: the coastal neighborhoods of Semarang, an important port city, are constructed on marshy land that is rapidly subsiding. Dysfunction of urban drainage systems translates obliquely but regularly into tidal floods of coastal neighborhoods. But regular tidal flooding ("rob") does never amount to a singular catastrophe - it is a series of "quasi-events" (Povinelli 2011) that produces unaccountable suffering. Residents have no choice but to perpetuate this (infra)structural violence, lifting streets and houses above sea level. This anticipatory configuration creates a chronic need of capital flow, often forcing communities to find illicit ways of coping. Semarang's planning agency questions this "chaotic" adaptation and imagines an "integrative" solution. Its new drainage master plan promises an end to rob through "river normalization." In view of this normative flood management, I reveal the reaffirmation of a dominant politics of time that colonizes the future of the urbanized swamp by shaping the outcome of its socioecological processes. Should we therefore read rob as a return of the swamp (Giblett 1998)? Is rob an "upwelling from the past" (Trumbull 2013) that questions the violence of modernization? Does tidal flooding point to a different future - an amphibious way of life?

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Amphibious dwelling: exploring life between wet and dry