Accepted paper:

The barrage, houses on stilts and the amphibious landscape: infrastructures and cosmograms in the Chao Phraya Delta in Thailand


Atsuro Morita (Osaka University)

Paper short abstract:

Materiality and sociality have been central focuses in the study of infrastructures. This paper examines the huge barrage across the Chao Phraya River and traditional houses on stilts in order to explore contrastive ontologies of the amphibious space of the Chao Phraya Delta.

Paper long abstract:

Infrastructures have been shown to reside at the intersection of materiality and sociality. This paper explores this intersection further by taking up two seemingly unrelated objects, the Chao Phraya Barrage across the Chao Phraya River and traditional houses on stilts located on its riverside in Thailand. Following John Tresch, the paper views these as cosmograms, objects that weave together social, natural and cosmological entities. The 2011 Thailand floods revealed the vulnerability of modern infrastructures in the Chao Phraya Delta in Thailand. At the same time, this event has demonstrated the adaptability of traditional infrastructures. These two forms of infrastructure reflect distinctive ways of seeing and enacting the delta, an intermediary place between sea and land. The Chao Phraya Barrage, which represents modern terrestrial infrastructure, embodies the knowledge of modern hydrology as well as the state power of Thailand, which strategically has mixed the promise of development and the cosmological order of a galactic polity, the traditional form of sovereignty in Southeast Asia. The barrage enacts the terrestrial landscape of modernity by controlling the entire water flow of the lower Chao Phraya River System. It has drained the watery landscape and created massive dry lands on which roads and western style buildings have been built. On the other hand, common houses on stilts on the riverside have repeatedly shown the resilience of traditional aquatic infrastructures. They are another type of cosmograms, which weave together water flow, riparian social space, water animals, and Buddhism and animistic divinities.

panel IP02
Intimacies of infrastructure