Towards a Mobile Political Ecology of Sand and Shifting Resource-based Livelihoods in Southeast Asia

Vanessa Lamb, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne; Zali Fung, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Melbourne


Tracking an Emerging 'Crisis': Sand and Sand Extraction in Southeast Asia


Southeast Asia is experiencing an unprecedented rise in sand extraction, with sand mined from rivers and coasts, and this is impacting resource-based livelihoods. Sand flows move beyond state territorial borders, suggesting the need to analyze how these flows move across political boundaries and (re)shape place. We adopt a mobile political ecology approach (Elmhirst et al. 2018) to understand the links between resource-dependent livelihoods and migration in the Myanmar (Burma)-Thai borderlands in the Salween River Basin. We bring van Schendel’s (2002) conceptualization of “flows” in borderlands to this work to understand the complex links between shifting livelihoods, migration flows, and sand extraction. In doing so, we make two key contributions. First, we rethink the fixity of people and resources in monsoonal Southeast Asia. Our research shows that existing migration patterns—which are complex and intergenerational—are being exacerbated by sand mining for export and environmental change, and interact with histories of conflict. Second, our work reveals not only how flows reshape place, but how place and practice reconfigure and reroute flows as they move through localities and interact with various actors. In highlighting these interlinkages, we provide new insights into often overlooked mobile resources and migration flows in the region, and their mutual constitution. By foregrounding transboundary flows in our analysis, we build on work that seeks to conceptualize place and scale in novel ways, thereby moving beyond state-centric analyses of transboundary resources.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |