Land Reclamation from the Ground Up


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In 50 years, the island state of Singapore has used reclamation—the creation of artificial new land from sea—to expand its landmass by an astonishing 25 percent. Framing this as straightforward territorial expansionism belies reclaimed land’s fraught process of engineering, for the process depends on unpredictable transnational flows of sand and migrant labor. In its interim stages, moreover, artificial land is legally and materially indeterminate: being neither land nor sea, its contours are hard to regulate, while rising seas threaten its integrity. What claims can nation states make to such shifting sands? What exactly is being reclaimed in reclamation? By investigating foreign sand and labor’s joint transformation into artificial domestic land, this project examines how a new, adaptive form of political power is being forged in relation to this unstable object, complicating the affinity between state and territory.