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Entangled Waterscapes in Asia

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Organizer: Kwai-Cheung Lo

Co-Organizer: Hung-chiung Li

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Waterscape appeals to scholars interested in the entanglements between waters and politics in Asia. Modern capitalism and imperialism were enabled by the sea which liberated politics and economy from their linear bounded territorialities. Fluidity and mobility have become the defining powers of the sea and modern capital and governmentality. This leads us to problematize the relationships between sea and land. The questions to be asked are not just about how the fluid might disrupt the rigid binarism, but also how the surfaces and flows would be incorporated into or might flee from the modern mobile power control.

Asia has dearly learned about the cataclysmic power of the sea brought about by capitalism and imperialism; the trade and war routes through its coasts determined its modern history. However, these nonlinear concatenations segregated and hyper-totalized, rather than decentralized, this area. The long-time routes and circuits established by the surrounding societies, their merchants, migrants and pirates, and the Austronesians were suspended and even forgotten. Heuristically and theoretically, these fluent and a-centered linkages point to an archipelagic assemblage that can reactivate imaginations of post-global relations.

Landlocked countries could be further examined by the perspective of waterscape. Water and the state have been central to the “Asiatic mode of production” presumed to centralize political power, resulting into the so-called “oriental despotism” that requires large-scale bureaucracies to manage irrigation and flood-control. China’s dam-building projects for hydropower and hydro-hegemony in Indo-China have created local and transnational tensions. Moreover, dense urbanization and agricultural expansion intensify water shortage. Water is linked to climate change. In the Himalayas, warmer winters produce less snow, diminishing the glaciers and snowfields qua water sources for downstream communities. Meanwhile, hotter air holds much more moisture and may exacerbate extreme weather.

Recently, (post-)global and Anthropocene events have been happening on Asian seawaters: extractions of resources; overfishing and exploitative fishery; island-building and land reclamations; sea area militarization and resultant frictions; refugee boats, passenger and cargo ships, and (para)military fleets; the rising sea level and sinking lands; increasing typhoons and flooding; nuclear leaks and ocean pollutions. What are looped together are not just the surface, smooth, and politico-economic, but also the ontological, ecological, and deep. There seems to be a “deep turn” posing challenges to our contemporary critical discourses which need to entangle these multifarious realms of epistemology, ontology, ethics, politics, economy, and human and nonhuman spiritualities and materialities. Our seminar seeks papers that can help define and analyze the waterscape as a critical lens in these entanglements within the Asian lands and seas.

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