Colonialism and the Ocean

Only then did it strike me that the location of that base in the Nicobars was by no means anomalous; the builders had not in any sense departed from accepted global norms. To the contrary, they had merely followed the example of the European colonists who had founded cities like Bombay (Mumbai), Madras (Chennai), New York, Singapore and Hong Kong, all of which are sited directly on the ocean. I understood also that what I had seen in the Nicobars was but a microcosmic expression of a pattern of settlement that is now dominant around the world: proximity to the water is a sign of affluence and education; a seafront location is a status symbol; an ocean view greatly increases the value of real estate. A colonial vision of the world, in which proximity to the water represents power and security, mastery and conquest, has now been incorporated into the very foundations of middle-class patterns of living across the globe.

great-derangementpt. I

people used to build cities only in protected ports, where there is a buffer zone between them and the open ocean in the form of bays, river deltas, estuaries, etc. old ports following this rule: london, amsterdam, stockholm, guangzhou, malacca, dhaka.

since the colonial era however, the pre-eminent cities of the world have been sited in unprotected ports—which makes a whole lot of sense, for a bunch of capitalists bent on extracting resources and/or capital from foreign lands as quickly as possible, without regard for building for the long term. they don't have to live with the consequences of their actions, unlike the locals.


great-derangement Ghosh, Amitav. The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable. ↩︎ 1