Building on Borrowed Time: Rising Seas and Failing Infrastructure in Semarang (Paperback)

Building on Borrowed Time: Rising Seas and Failing Infrastructure in Semarang By Lukas Ley Cover Image
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A timely ethnography of how Indonesia’s coastal dwellers inhabit the “chronic present” of a slow-motion natural disaster

Ice caps are melting, seas are rising, and densely populated cities worldwide are threatened by floodwaters, especially in Southeast Asia. Building on Borrowed Time is a timely and powerful ethnography of how people in Semarang, Indonesia, on the north coast of Java, are dealing with this global warming–driven existential challenge. In addition to antiflooding infrastructure breaking down, vast areas of cities like Semarang and Jakarta are rapidly sinking, affecting the very foundations of urban life: toxic water oozes through the floors of houses, bridges are submerged, traffic is interrupted. 

As Lukas Ley shows, the residents of Semarang are constantly engaged in maintaining their homes and streets, trying to live through a slow-motion disaster shaped by the interacting temporalities of infrastructural failure, ecological deterioration, and urban development. He casts this predicament through the temporal lens of a “meantime,” a managerial response that means a constant enduring of the present rather than progress toward a better future—a “chronic present.” 

Building on Borrowed Time takes us to a place where a flood crisis has already arrived—where everyday residents are not waiting for the effects of climate change but are in fact already living with it—and shows that life in coastal Southeast Asia is defined not by the temporality of climate science but by the lived experience of tidal flooding.

About the Author

Lukas Ley is senior lecturer in the Institute of Anthropology (Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies) at Heidelberg University, Germany.

Praise For…

"In this careful study of keeping water at bay in Semarang’s floodplain kampungs, Lukas Ley takes us to a material landscape riddled with the legacies of maldevelopment. With historical precision and ethnographic nuance, Building on Borrowed Time shows us how an urban world of dysfunctional flood protection systems generates everyday, intensely localized burdens of chronic breakdown and disrepair that often hinder—and sometimes fully prevent—communities from engaging with future-looking efforts to mitigate the threats of a changing climate. A must-read for anyone seeking to better understand the complexity of urban flood management and community well-being on an ever-warmer planet."—Anne Rademacher, New York University

"How do residents of a sodden Semarang inhabit both the waters that now regularly soak their homes, and also crusty, transnational urban political agendas? Building on Borrowed Time is a brilliant book that wades through the muddy political environment of a frequently inundated city. It shows how Semarang’s residents occupy the chronic present—a mode of living with the violence of accreted infrastructures and their regular breakdowns. Dwelling with planners, transnational development experts, local political leaders, and residents, Lukas Ley demonstrates how socialities and politics relentlessly emerge from residents staying afloat in a meantime in which the promise of future transformation is noticeably absent. This is a rare ethnography that is both historically grounded and theoretically sophisticated—a great read for anyone thinking about the futures of coastal cities in the climate changed present."—Nikhil Anand, author of Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Politics in Mumbai


"In Building on Borrowed Time: Rising Seas and Failing Infrastructure in Semarang, Lukas Ley offers a new ethnrography exploring how people in Semarang, Indonesia, deal with the everyday threat of flooding. This fascinating book is worthwhile reading not only for urban studies scholars but for all those wanting to understand the complexity of living in a chronic disaster area from the perspective of inhabitants."—LSE Review of Books


"Ley's study offers a valuable look at Indonesian politics and the complexities of living with (or despite) infrastructure."—H-Net Reviews


Product Details
ISBN: 9781517908881
ISBN-10: 1517908884
Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press
Publication Date: November 23rd, 2021
Pages: 240
Language: English