Amphibious Encounters: Coral and People in Conservation Outreach in Indonesia

  • Annet Pauwelussen Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University
  • G.M. Verschoor Wageningen University
Keywords: coral, outreach, marine conservation, ontological politics, Bajau, Indonesia


Drawing on long-term ethnographic research in Indonesia, this article describes a conservation outreach project that attempts to educate and convert local people into coral protectors. Both coral and the sea-dwelling Bajau people appear to be amphibious beings, moving between a changeable land-water interface, and between different, fluidly interwoven ontological constellations. We show that the failure of conservation organizations to recognize the ontologically ambiguous nature of “coral” and “people” translates to a breakdown of outreach goals. Mobilizing the concept of amphibiousness to engage this ambiguity and fluidity, we describe the moving land-water interface as the actual living environment for both coral and people. The notion of amphibiousness, we suggest, has practical and political value, in particular for reconsidering outreach and how it may be reframed as a process involving ontological dialogue. For conservation outreach to become seaworthy, it needs to cultivate an amphibious capacity, capable of moving in-between and relating partly overflowing ways of knowing and being. Providing room for ambiguity, thinking with amphibiousness furthermore encourages suspension of the (Western) tendency to explain the Other, to fix what does not add up. As such, it is of heuristic relevance for the on-going discussions of ontological multiplicity that have proliferated at the intersection between STS and anthropology.

Author Biographies

Annet Pauwelussen, Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University

Annet Pauwelussen is currently a lecturer at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology of Leiden University. She holds a PhD in Anthropology of Development from Wageningen University and has conducted research on maritime societies, fishing and marine conservation practices in Southeast Asia. Her dissertation “Amphibious anthropology: engaging with maritime worlds in Indonesia” explores the human capacity to live in and move between different worlds in terms of living in a hybrid land-sea environment and in terms of moving along with different understandings of reality. Central to her current work are the political and methodological challenges involved in dialogues between science-based and indigenous understandings of human-environment relations.

G.M. Verschoor, Wageningen University

Gerard Verschoor grew up in Mexico. He has a MSc and PhD in Development Sociology (Wageningen University), and has conducted research in Burkina Faso (land-use patterns), Colombia (climate change, territoriality, food chains), Costa Rica (local knowledge and natural resources), and Mexico (migration, agricultural intervention, GM-corn, small-scale enterprise). Key parts of his work presently concentrate on trying to understand how socio-ecological controversies are underpinned by conceptual disjunctures––most notably between global forms of governance and indigenous peoples. In terms of geographical focus, these play out in Mexico and Colombia in particular.

03 May 2017
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