Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
After 50 years of aggressive augmentation, reclaimed land now makes up a quarter of Singapore's total landmass. Cut out of the sea, this artificial land aspires to cut the chain of causality: to self-found and to give law to itself (auto-nomos). It purports, moreover, to be a better substitute for “naturally-occurring” land—better to build on, a better foundation for political society, and a more capable repository of value. But unease over its artifice lingers. Is it mere counterfeit? What is to guarantee that reclaimed land is even “land” at all? Surely not its durability, seeing as rising seas are already taking back what has been built.
Land reclamation, I want to suggest, presents in modern dress the familiar problem of value-making. For dramatized in reclamation is doubt—that conundrum which any would-be author of value must face when trying to fix value “in” an untested material bearer. It also revives the question about the authorship of such value: on what does that author-ity ground itself? Rather than quash doubt, reclamation would seem to deliberately stage its own contrivance. My paper considers the substitutive logic animating this “poor” copy. At issue in reclamation is not the insistence on its equivalence or substitutability with “genuine” land, but rather the organization of precisely that impossibility. That is, artificial land must put on display its own fabrication so as to retrieve its value as if found—as if lying latent and submerged, simply waiting, as the term suggests, to be re-claimed.