Edyta Roszko is currently a Post-doctoral Researcher at the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies of the University of Copenhagen conducting an independent research project (Territorialising the Sea) funded by the Danish Research Council that focuses on the global and local consequences of the South China Sea dispute on local fisheries in Vietnam and China. Her scholarly articles have appeared in Cross-Currents: East Asian history and Culture Review, Nations and Nationalism and Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia and other journals. Her monograph Doing and Making Religion on Vietnam’s Maritime Frontier: State, Religious Practice and Villagers is under contract with NIAS Press.
Summary of project
The South China Sea and Environment: Tracing ecological and livelihoods realities in maritime borderlands
Studies on the environmental history of Southeast Asia point out that while there has been long-standing exploitation of marine resources in the region, overfishing is a very recent development. Marine ecologists offer an equally alarming picture by connecting various contemporary state development projects with ongoing damage to the marine ecosystem, including mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs that provide breeding grounds for many marine species. Maritime disputes, the development of refrigeration, freezing and transportation technologies might encourage coastal inhabitants to use more intensive and often destructive methods of extracting marine and coastal resources for commercial purposes. Economists therefore propose a broader economic valuation of natural assets and payment for their ecological services as a way out of the unbridgeable dilemma between destructive exploitation and conservation. However, one of the main assumptions underlying this project is that the South China Sea region cannot be fully grasped without paying attention to local communities that inevitably become involved not only in competition over marine resources and in border making but also in environmental damage. We need to better understand how coastal communities—which are dependent on maritime spaces for their livelihoods—respond to the new challenges. This anthropological research project offers in-depth analysis of this issue by unpacking and problematizing the concept of “commons” beyond the binaries between state and non-state actors, local-global, and private and public, thereby recognizing the complexity of the process and interests pursued by various actors.