Penn Calendar Penn A-Z School of Arts and Sciences University of Pennsylvania

Polluted Transformations of Fluid Commons: Dismantling Ships in Southeast Coastal Bangladesh

in partnership with EnviroLab

Camelia Dewan
Environmental Anthropologist
Friday, April 19, 2024 - 03:00
Center for the Advanced Study of India Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science & Economics 133 South 36th Street, Suite 230 Philadelphia PA 19104-6215

About the Lecture:
This talk joins debates that are refiguring the commons by examining industrial pollution from shipbreaking on the beaches of Sitakunda, Bangladesh, which has become a cheap destination for dismantling toxic ships. Dismantling ships in an intertidal zone creates environmental threats at multiple scales. Dispossession in this delta is more than the loss of access to common lands; rather it accelerates ‘more-than-economic’ forms of dispossession through the irreversible destruction of coastal ecologies. Such ‘enclosures by contamination’ of ‘fluid commons’ in a former colony affect health and the ability to sustain life. This illustrates the unevenness and historical contingencies of ‘Anthropocene enclosures’ and raises questions concerning bioethics and environmental justice as well as liability in global shipping.

Drawing on fieldwork with minority fishermen living in-between shipbreaking yards, shipbreaking workers, and regulatory authorities as well as global shipping stakeholders, this talk will show how people resist, adapt, and carry on living through the polluted transformations of Sitakunda’s khas (public, state-owned) coastal commons. Dewan will discuss the compounding challenges of pollution and their persisting impacts on local ecologies and livelihoods in order to raise the question of whether the current reform agenda of ‘sustainable ship recycling’ risks perpetuating the same health-harming polluting activities of the past.

About the Speaker:
Camelia Dewan is an environmental anthropologist focusing on the anthropology of development and author of Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh (2021, University of Washington Press) and "Climate refugees or labour migrants? Climate reductive translations of women’s migration from coastal Bangladesh" (2023, Journal of Peasant Studies).

She is the co-editor of two special issues "Fluid Dispossessions: Contested Waters in Capitalist Natures" (Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology) and "Scaled Ethnographies of Toxic Flows" (Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space). 

Dr. Dewan holds an MSc in Development Studies (LSE) and a PhD in Social Anthropology and Environment from the University of London (SOAS/Birkbeck). As a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo since 2018 she has examined the socio-environmental effects of shipbreaking in Bangladesh and is now an Associate senior lecturer and Assistant Professor at the Department of Cultural Anthropology, Uppsala University. 

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