The Meaning of Urban River Pollution and Sense of Place: An Ethnographic Study of the Klang River, Malaysia

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 12:00 AM
Room: 315
Distributed Paper
Nor Azlin TAJUDDIN , Sociology & Anthropology, International Islamic University , Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
This paper is based on a PhD research, which investigates values, beliefs and practices associated with two polluted rivers in urban settings – the Klang River in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Torrens River, South Australia. However, this paper focuses on the findings from the Klang River ethnographic data.  Theoretically, the concept of place is central to this paper. Findings suggest that in the urban setting where rivers have increasingly been polluted and modified, and as a consequence whose water is not suitable for direct contact, the visual faculty plays a prominent role in determining the state of the river.  From the perspective of everyday users,  what constitutes pollution depends significantly on what can and what cannot be seen with naked eyes. In particular, objects (such as rubbish) intermingling with river water, the colour and texture of water, the decline or abundance of aquatic species in the river are some of the common visual experiences described by the locals as indicative of pollution. What emerges is that local people have a broad conceptualization of river pollution.  The values of a healthy river for the locals include also the physical environment surrounding it. Specifically, the concrete grey walls and straightening of the Klang River for flood mitigation schemes and transportation routes were viewed by the local people as a form of pollution. They expressed a deep concern regarding the physical transformation and modifications of the surrounding riverscape from ‘natural’ to ‘unnatural’, which consequently affect their visual experiences and overall sense of place. In conclusion, the concept of place is central to this paper. It is a useful means to understand and analyse the manner in which people comprehend environmental degradation and more specifically river pollution.