Troubled ways of relating: Humans and More-than-humans in land struggles
Fri 14:00-15:30 Room 3.05
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Claim making in a tourism development project: A case study of cosmological politics in Komodo Island, Indonesia
Mahesti Hasanah Universitas Gadjah Mada
This research discusses the role of cosmological politics—an attempt to sustain, negotiate, and challenge nature as well as culture—in a tourism development project in Komodo Island, West Manggarai, East South Nusa, Indonesia. The endeavor to explore this process is based on the premise that cosmological politics is central in tourist development projects since it creates unequal development which threatens the community’s livelihood, the indigenous animal, and its environment in general. Drawing on the case of a super-premium tourism development project in Flores Island, West Manggarai, in 2021, we aim to understand how people’s attempts to secure rights to natural resources, including the land and the animal, by having their access claims recognized as legitimate property by a politico-legal institution. More specifically, this research seeks to understand how cosmological politics comes along with the process of appropriation, accessing, and contestation in claims to land, the animal, and its environment in general.
“Conservation and land dispossession: reconsidering modes of assemblage between human and nonhuman in eastern Cambodia”
Frédéric Bourdier Institut de recherche pour le développement
New-fangled development policies aimed at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities via sustainable development without degrading the ecosphere have powerfully emerged throughout Southeast Asian countries. That is why a research enterprise focusing on the consequences of such an imported green economy, as it is baptized in the neoliberal (crumbling) empire, is crucial because we are at a moment when the increasing commodification of the nature threatens to erase the sociocultural diversity of « being in the world ». Even the trees, the forests, the mountains, the atmosphere and the rivers are accountable and subject to investment and speculation. Such characteristics of this green economy—with its implicit Western idea of nature being separated from societies—is percolating, obstructing, transforming and altering various expressions of creation of we Human Beings.
Landscape and sand mining in Cambodia
Paul Christensen University of Göttingen
The increasing demand of construction aggregates makes sand and gravel the most extracted natural resource in the world, but sand resources are already depleted in many places. Large consumers such as China and Singapore need large quantities of sand from Southeast Asian countries, especially from coastal areas and river delta areas such as the Mekong. However, intensive mining promotes the destruction of ecosystems and creates political and social conflicts, such as the drainage of the wet lands of Phnom Penh und the eviction of thousands of residents. Destructive interventions like these make the human and non-human entanglements visible; salinisation of drinking water prevents agricultural subsistence farming, fishermen must look for other sources of income due to lack of catches, and erosion causes houses, roads, and gardens on the shore to drown into the sea (Marschke 2021). The sand, or sandscapes, are thus dense sites of research where processes of urbanisation, progress, ecological and social transformation and destruction are negotiated between humans, and non-humans, such as fishes, companies or spirits.
Marine conservation, sea spirits and Bajo’s territorial claims in Taka Bonerate National Park (South Sulawesi, Indonesia)
Colin Vanlaer National Museum of Natural History of Paris
Classified as « backward tribes » (suku terasing) by the Indonesian state, the « sea nomads » of the archipelago (Orang Suku Laut and Sama Bajau) have been targeted by development policies leading to their sedentarization and their partial assimilation to the Indonesian national and civil society. During the 1990s several national marine parks have surfaced on their traditional fishing and dwelling places (Bunaken, Toggean, Wakatobi, Taka Bonerate). Driven by conservationist goals, the parks have worked to transform the ecology of these groups. In Taka Bonerate, from the protection of “endangered species” and the criminalization of “destructive fishing” to the implementation of “sanctuary zones”, park authorities have imposed a new form of territoriality on the atoll. It dramatically redefined the right of access to the spaces and the resources of the atoll.
In this presentation, I will describe two different territorial claim and struggle opposing Bajo people to Park authorities and tourists to highlight the differentiate roles sea spirits and ancestor play in it. Firstly, I will depict the general sovereignty these more-than- human impose over the reefs and which Bajo respect through multiple pamali (taboo). It is on such grounds that my interlocutors considered dangerous the presence of tourists and especially divers entering specific reefs. Such discourse is an internal claim, an informal way of disapproving and resisting the Park authority and territoriality. However, Bajo official struggle against the privatization of the atoll did not refer to sea spirits. It was based on the administrative division of the atoll in villages (desa). Building on such case study, I will question the effect of such territorial struggles on the relation Bajo have with sea spirits and ancestors. Thus, I will also question the main hypothesis of my doctoral research, namely the Bajo integration to the Indonesian state induces an anthropologization of politics.
In Cambodia and all across Southeast Asia, people have been wrestling to defend the land on which they were living and farming in the face of large-scale land acquisitions via Economic Land Concessions and other reverse land reforms (e.g. Hall & al. 2011; Li 2010; Schoenberger & al. 2017), relying on strategies ranging from protests, over (collective) land titling, mediation processes, to legal complaints (e.g. Baird 2013; Bourdier 2019; Li 2000; Milne 2013; Mahanty & al. 2021).
A rich body of scholarship, going far beyond the region, points out how such struggles are often complicated by diverging conceptions of land and ways of relating to it (e.g. Gordillo 2002; Kent 2008; Leemann 2020; Tusing 2021). Further, increasing attention came to be paid to “ontological conflicts” implied in land struggles, that is on involved parties’ different and sometimes opposing ways of seeing the world (e.g. Blaser 2009; de la Cadena 2012; Escobar 2008). In these works, which emerged from research in (Latin) American contexts, the accent tends to lie on the opposition of animist and naturalist (or Euro-modern) ‘worlds’, and related equivocations. This approach has been criticized for being overly binary (Bessire & Bond 2014), and for concentrating on issues that those who are concerned in the first place might not consider the most pressing (Cepek 2016). However, its exhortation to take the role of more-than-humans seriously on the political stage appears extremely relevant in Southeast Asian contexts (e.g. Allerton 2009; Beban & Work 2014; Endres & Lauser 2012; Guillou 2017).
Building upon these different strands of research, we propose to explore how struggles for land involving diverging notions of what is at stake and diverse modes of organizing and acting, affect Southeast Asian people’s ways of relating to the world, to fellow humans as well as to spirits and other more-than-humans. We also ask how their values and conceptions of what is fair, right or wrong might be called into question and altered in the process, for instance as people are trying to conform to imposed criteria of what makes a legitimate claimant (Humphrey 2012; Scheer 2021).