Nikhil Anand, School of Arts & Sciences; Anu Mathur, School of Design

The Inhabited Sea

Principal Investigators

Nikhil Anand
Department of Anthropology, School of Arts and Sciences

Anu Mathur
Landscape Architecture, School of Design

Project Abstract

Rising sea levels, and the increased likelihood of extreme weather events have caused significant concern among both scientists and planners about the future of coastal cities, particularly in the Global South. How might cities respond to the critical challenges posed by rising sea levels? Focusing on one of the largest coastal cities in the world, Mumbai, this project asks how cities may be governed with rising seas and changing climate patterns in the present and the future. Drawing together scholars and researchers working in the anthropology, the earth sciences, and landscape architecture at Penn, and The Indian Institute for Technology (Mumbai), the Tata Institute of Social Science and the School of Environment and Architecture, our research initiative proposes to (a) gather the uncertain chemical and biological qualities and presences of the urban sea, (b) understand how sea workers (such as dock workers and fishers) negotiate these qualities of the sea in their everyday practices and (c) use these living knowledges and a critique of past expert and colonial practices to rethink and reimagine the fundamental relationships with which habitation is being made and remade with the rising seas.

Our aspiration is to begin this work through a transdisciplinary dialogue among the researchers – to infest the lens as it were, of the different disciplines involved not after, but prior to our conducting substantive research, and as we conduct this research. In particular, we are interested in how an ethnographic and design disposition can not only compliment, but also transform how data driven research is situated, read and engaged in design and planning. In contrast to approaches that seek to quickly design resilience approaches from above, our research begins from and learns with the already existing practices, knowledges and lifeworlds of communities that tenaciously occupy the margins.