Lukas Ley, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Germany
Urbanization and global population growth are fuelling a surge in demand for sand, especially in Asia and Africa (Bendixen 2019). The average use of sand per person per day has reached 18 kilograms (UNEP 2019), making sand the second most used raw material after water. Large-scale coastal infrastructure projects in Asian countries that use sand in reclamation and construction have come under critique. Singapore is most infamously known for (illegally) importing sand from Southeast Asian countries to protect national assets and enlarge its territory (Whitington 2016). But not only states and investors need sand to protect shores and fortify land against rising seas. This paper considers the appropriation of sand in the context of everyday infrastructural projects aimed at protecting coastal settlements. Following Bennet (2011), it considers sand not as an inert material, but as an active ingredient of coastal life-worlds that inflects social relations and choice, both individual and collective. A focus on sand, it argues, opens up creative possibilities to study the urban environment beyond a limited focus on capital flows and governance. It reveals unseen inhabitations, techniques, and types of coastal infrastructures grounded in historically specific sociocultural formations around increasingly volatile coastal landscapes. A political ecological approach captures how residents recast the coast as a lifeworld according to patterns of seasonal variation and climate change but also global economic shifts and material affordances.
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