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Discipline and Drain: River Normalization and Semarang’s Fight against Tidal Flooding

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This article explores how imaginaries of the river and Semarang’s northern neighborhoods shape urban and infrastructural practices. As a collaborative strategy to fight “excess” (of both water and unruly social elements), the normalization of rivers relies on kampung-state relations that have developed around rivers and their management. Normalization also serves residents’ interests, enabling them to overcome social stigma and to fight for urban rights. Although normalization can be a highly disruptive intervention, destroying houses and leading to displacement, many affected residents nevertheless welcome the continuation of normalization efforts. This article provides a genealogy of “normalisasi” in Semarang (and beyond). It makes the argument that modern river infrastructure was and continues to be conceptualized as a cure for Semarang’s former wetlands in the north—a practice begun by the Dutch colonial government. However, this article does not consider river infrastructure as a neat outcome of national schemes. Instead of considering water infrastructure as a product of the “hydraulic state” (a centralized formation of power and knowledge), it observes how national norms, urban imaginaries, and local histories coalesce.

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Indonesia

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Vol. 105

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Page range: 53-75

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2018-04

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Cornell University Southeast Asia Program

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