Place, people and pollution: an urban ethnography of the Klang River in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Torrens River in Adelaide, South Australia

Nor Azlin Tajuddin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

[Truncated abstract] This thesis explores comparative river/human interactions in two contrasting urban locations: Malaysia's Klang River in Kuala Lumpur, and South Australia's Torrens River in Adelaide. Using ethnographic data, especially a series of river pollution stories, I show how and why people's attachment to each river can be understood within a place-based framework. Drawing on an interrelated mix of literature focused on concepts and connections to place by scholars such as Yi-Fu Tuan and Keith Basso, Mary Douglas's understanding of dirt and pollution, and research embedded in anthropological studies about people‘s relationship to water, I develop two overarching and interconnected arguments. The first is that people's views and practices in relation to pollution are profoundly affected by their sense of the river as a cherished but also often ambiguous place. Building on this emphasis, I suggest, secondly, that despite the seeming disparity between an Australian and Malaysian setting, people have similar views about the concept and actuality of pollution. Several common themes have emerged from my research. Threading a series of what I describe as river stories or narratives, I show how respondents placed a strong emphasis on visual perceptions of place with regard to a river's purity or cleanliness. Both the Klang and Torrens residents minimally experience other sensations, such as a river‘s sound and smell, and tactile experiences. The visual qualities of water, notably, colour and clarity, were usually relied on as indicators of river quality. The abundance and decline of aquatic species were also integral to people's conceptualisation of river health. People with whom I worked in both locations held definite ideas about visible human-made floating rubbish, such as water bottles and plastic bags.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013

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