Mega-Plantations in Southeast Asia

Landscapes of Displacement

in Environment and Society
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  • 1 National University of Singapore geokmr@nus.edu.sg
  • 2 Kyoto University ishikawa@cseas.kyoto-u.ac.jp
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Abstract

This article reviews a wide body of literature on the emergence and expansion of agro-industrial, monoculture plantations across Southeast Asia through the lens of megaprojects. Following the characterization of megaprojects as displacement, we define mega-plantations as plantation development that rapidly and radically transforms landscapes in ways that displace and replace preexisting human and nonhuman communities. Mega-plantations require the application of large amounts of capital and political power and the transnational organization of labor, capital, and material. They emerged in Southeast Asia under European colonialism in the nineteenth century and have expanded again since the 1980s at an unprecedented scale and scope to feed global appetites for agro-industrial commodities such as palm oil and rubber. While they have been contested by customary land users, smallholders, civil society organizations, and even government regulators, their displacement and transformation of Southeast Asia's rural landscapes will likely endure for quite some time.

Contributor Notes

MILES KENNEY-LAZAR is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the National University of Singapore. He has been conducting research on the political, economic, and environmental geographies of large-scale Vietnamese and Chinese agro-industrial plantations in Laos over the past decade, particularly their threats to peasant claims on land and forested landscapes. He is currently expanding his research analyze the politics of land dispossession in peri-urban Laos and land rights restitution in Myanmar (Burma). He has written 13 peer-reviewed publications on these and related topics. Email: geokmr@nus.edu.sg

NOBORU ISHIKAWA is Professor of Anthropology at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. He earned his PhD in Anthropology from the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He has conducted fieldwork in Sarawak, Malaysia, exploring the construction of national space in the borderland, highland-lowland relations, the commodification of nature, and multispecies interactions in the tropics. His publications include Between Frontiers: Nation and Identity in a Southeast Asian Borderland (2010), Transborder Governance of Forests, Rivers and Seas (2010), Flows and Movements in Southeast Asia (2011) and Anthropogenic Tropical Forests: Human-Nature Interfaces on the Plantation Frontier (2019). Email: ishikawa@cseas.kyoto-u.ac.jp

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