ORAR - Open Research Area for the Social Sciences in Europe ANR DFG ESRC NWO

Deltas dealings with uncertainty: Multiple practices and knowledges of delta governance – DouBT

Deltas’ dealings with uncertainty: Multiple practices and knowledges of delta governance

Deltas in South-East Asia have become “objects of global governance” while, at the same time, they are characterized by a wide diversity of environmental management practices and shaped by multiple actors: farmers, administrations, international donors, etc. The overall objective of this project was to understand how different perceptions and bodies of knowledge about “Deltas” meet and hybridize.

Understand perceptions and practices of environmental management and issues in south-East Asian deltas

South East Asian deltas are dynamic and densely populated socioenvironment. They are caracterized by agriculural intensification, the construction of water control infrastructures, rapid urbanization and are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. the DoUBT project analyses the rural dynamics at play in and the actors who shape three of these deltas: the upper Mekong (Cambodia/Thailand); the Ayeyarwady (Myanmar) and the Chao Phraya (Thailand).<br /><br />The project studies the international and national sociotechnical networks that work towards integrated delta planning and the processes through which specific visions of a delta is or should be become dominant - notably though development projects that aim at building water control infrastructures. In the same time, the project team unravels the local agricultural dynamics and water governance modalities that shape deltas' landscapes. The latter serves to put all-encompassing visions of deltas in perspectives.

Open-ended interviews (farmers and farmers representatives, local elected officials, staff of ministries and development organizations); multistakeholders meetings.

Delta planning is an exercise that is largely driven «from the outside«, that is, by international and bilateral development agencies who find strong partners among in-country among sectoral ministries. The Dutch development aid put forth the dutch experience in delta management in the Netherlands and has been particularly active in driving or supporting delta planning initiatives in Vietnam and Myanmar. In Thailand and Cambodia, there has not been any attempt at devising integrated development plans for the delta regions and water control infrastructure development projects have shaped the landscapes. In parallel to this, deltas dwellers have developped complex strategies to live with uncertainties over water availability (floods and droughts) and an economic context that is challenging for small scale farmers.

The project will conduct an in-depth analysis of the national network that shape delta management and the perceptions of deltas' dwellers in terms of agricultural development and water management. The project will focus on (1) the Upper Mekong delta through a comparison between the largelly uncontrolled Cambodian portion of the delta and the diked system found in vietnam and (2) the Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong deltas in Thailand through a participatory investigation of agricultural development scenarios.

Two master thesis

This project innovatively combines science and technology studies (STS) with the anthropology of development to interrogate how uncertainties are understood and dealt with in environmental planning. We use deltas in South and Southeast Asia as our research object. These deltas are dynamic and densely populated environments typified by agricultural intensification, rapid urbanisation and vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Recognition of the existence of multiple (definitions of) deltas informs the main project hypothesis: much delta knowledge used in the South comes from specific epistemic communities, whose knowledge travels through and because of global development-cooperation networks. We trace these networks and travels through space and time to critically examine how delta knowledges are generated and gain authority, and their hybridisation with ‘local’ knowledge and governance practices. We do this for four deltas with diverging cultural and historical trajectories and contemporary dynamics: the Ganges-Brahmaputra and the Mekong serve as contrasting reference against which the Chao Phraya and the Irrawaddy will be studied in greater detail. Engaging with contemporary debates in STS, the analyses will be used for a re-consideration of expertise and the role of experts in dealing with uncertainties. This in turn will inform the formulation of guiding principles for productive and responsible ways of environmental knowing and planning at different scales.

Project coordination

Jean-Philippe VENOT (Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


UCL University College London
UvA Universiteit of Amsterdam
CIRAD Centre de Coopération Internationale de Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement
IRD - UMR GEAU Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement

Help of the ANR 449,052 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2016 - 36 Months

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