Monika Arnez obtained her PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany, in Indonesian and Malay Studies. She teaches undergraduate and graduate students and supervises B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. thesis on different issues related to Southeast Asia. Her latest research, which was part of the EU-funded project SEATIDE, focused on how the entanglement of state and non-state actors promotes or impedes dreams of social justice and prosperity in East Kalimantan. Other anthropological projects she has conducted since 2008 have analyzed ecofriendly Islamic boarding schools and women’s empowerment in Muslim women’s mass organizations in Indonesia.

Project Summary

Creating Land from Water: Land Reclamation in Maritime Southeast Asia

Land reclamation is an urban development strategy many countries implement in order to extend the reach of existing cities and create new space for artificial islands. These are destined to house many types of projects, such as apartment complexes, office buildings, shopping malls, and deep-sea harbours. Countries like Singapore, for example, where land is a scarce resource, have long relied on sand imported from countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Vietnam for land reclamation, before these three countries prohibited the export of sand to their Southeast Asian neighbour. Yet, land reclamation is also common in regions where land is readily available. A case in point is Malaysia’s West Coast where artificial islands have been created by dredging sand despite the fact that land is abundant. As land reclamation relies extensively on capital, labour and technology, elite actors dominate the process of creating land within an environment of water.

This research project is a multi-sited ethnographic study aiming at a deeper understanding of land reclamation sites in maritime Southeast Asia. It analyses, firstly, how the process of creating new space – and displacing the sea – impacts on social relationships and the marine habitat. Secondly, it examines the approaches of different groups of actors towards land reclamation, and, thirdly it addresses how ecological knowledge production is used to influence land reclamation projects. This project draws on two bodies of scholarly literature, the first dealing with the social construction and production of space, and the second with ecological knowledge and knowledge-shaping processes.