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A Landscape Political Ecology of ‘Swiftlet Farming’ in Malaysian Cities
[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2016.
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This dissertation develops the conceptual framework of landscape political ecology (LPE) to consider particular forms of socio-ecological transformation resulting from the relatively re- cent but heavily contested practice of ‘swiftlet farming’ in Malaysian cities. Swiftlet farming is a colloquial term given to the semi-domestication of edible-nest swiftlets (aerodramus fuciphagus) in converted buildings within urban areas in order to harvest their nests. These nests have long been a highly sought-after delicacy in China and overseas Chinese communities, and subsequently fetch over US$2000 on the international market. The primary research question investigated asks how the industry has been perceived and contested on an everyday basis in Malaysian cities. Engaging these controversies provides the opportunity to capture the significant negotiation that is embedded in the mechanisms of landscape production and capital accumulation as they take place through struggles over swiftlet farming in contemporary Malaysian cities. This research also seeks to understand how the swiftlet farming industry has transformed not only the cities in which it has been located, but also the ecology of swiftlets and their breeding patterns.The dissertation is centered on a six-month participatory ethnography which took place primarily in the city of George Town, Penang, but also investigated other related sites in peninsular Malaysia. I maintain that such ‘co-productive’ research has enabled a more situated view of socio-ecological transformations that have transpired through urban swiftlet farming in Malaysia, and the controversies surrounding them. The empirical chapters aim to unpack the controversies and discourses that emerged in response to swiftlet farming in the study areas, primarily its perceived impact on urban health, forms of cultural heritage, and the wider implications of ‘farming’ such animals in urban residential areas. In exploring these topics, LPE provides a cohesive and integrated approach that helps to untangle the interconnected economic, political, ecological and discursive processes that together form increasingly heterogeneous socio-natural landscapes. The implications of this thesis thus speak to the fraught cultural politics underlying processes of urban socio-ecological transformation in contemporary Southeast Asian cities.