Delta Ontologies

Infrastructural Transformations in the Chao Phraya Delta, Thailand

in Social Analysis
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Abstract

In this article, we explore a contrast between terrestrial and amphibious ways of imagining and intervening in deltas, which have given rise to contrasting delta ontologies. Whereas the former originated in Europe and focused on removing water for agriculture, the latter conceived of deltas as extending water flows. In Thailand’s Chao Phraya Delta these incongruent approaches have inspired very different forms of infrastructural development over the last century. Examining the entwined histories of agency of people—engineers, scientists, traders, and kingdoms—and non-humans, such as canals, dikes, and landscapes, we trace how the delta’s ontology was transformed by the gradual layering of partly incompatible infrastructures. In light of increasing floods, the continued sustainability of Bangkok may now depend on amphibious infrastructures lying half-forgotten within this ontological palimpsest.

Contributor Notes

Atsuro Morita is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Osaka University. He has done ethnographic research on technology development in Thailand, focusing on how ideas, artifacts, and people travel in and out of Thailand. Together with Casper Bruun Jensen, he currently convenes the Japanese team of the Delta’s Dealing with Uncertainty project. He is the author of Engineering in the Wild (Sekaishiso-sha, in Japanese) and editor of Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion (2016, with Penny Harvey and Casper Bruun Jensen).

Casper Bruun Jensen is Project Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology, Osaka University. He is the author of Ontologies for Developing Things: Making Health Care Futures Through Technology (2010) and Monitoring Movements in Development Aid: Recursive Partnerships and Infrastructures (2013, with Brit Ross Winthereik). He is also the editor of Deleuzian Intersections: Science, Technology, Anthropology (2009, with Kjetil Rödje) and Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion (2016, with Penny Harvey and Atsuro Morita).

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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