Research Agenda & Themes

As an urban geographer and political ecologist, my research explores themes of socio-ecological change, environmental expertise, and urban water politics in the global South. In addition, my work explores the intersections of eviction, displacement, and adaptation to environmental threats. I am also interested in critical and feminist perspectives on the production of knowledge, particularly climate science.

Navigating The Waters Of Flood Mitigation In Jakarta: Promoting and Contesting Expert Knowledges

Funded by the UCLA International Institute, the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative & The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Department of Geography, my PhD thesis closely traces the promotion, circulation and contestation of the planned Great Garuda Sea Wall, a USD$40 billion Dutch-designed flood defence project. In addition to a giant sea wall, the design includes plans for an attractive waterfront city build on land reclaimed from Jakarta Bay in the shape of the garuda, a mythical bird and Indonesia’s national symbol. Championed by consultants and bureaucrats as constituting the best solution to flooding, this project is representative of the Indonesian state’s infrastructural approach to flooding, which relies on concrete-heavy, capital-intensive engineering interventions such as sea walls, pumping stations, and river ‘normalization’ (normalisasi).

This highly ambitious, large-scale project stands in stark contrast to attempts to plan with nature, which the same consultancy firms are promoting across North America and Western Europe. Acknowledging that urban flooding is a socio-ecological process that cannot readily be ‘fixed’ through such infrastructural interventions alone, my research examines how and why this approach to flooding prevails in Jakarta. To address this question, my research draws a discourse analysis of engineering and consultancy documents, as well as more than fifty semi-structured interviews with consultants, engineers, bureaucrats, government officials, staff of NGOs, community organizers, reporters, academics, and activists conducted during multi-sited fieldwork in Jakarta and the Netherlands between 2014 and 2017.

Graffiti in Kampung Aquarium in 2016 following the forced eviction of the community reads  Hey Ahok kembalikan rumah & hak kami  (“Hey Ahok return our homes and our rights”).

Graffiti in Kampung Aquarium in 2016 following the forced eviction of the community reads Hey Ahok kembalikan rumah & hak kami (“Hey Ahok return our homes and our rights”).

River normalization ( normalisasi)  in central Jakarta, 2015.

River normalization (normalisasi) in central Jakarta, 2015.


If you are unable to access an article due to a paywall, please email me at and I will be happy to send you a PDF.

Colven, E. and D T Irawaty (2019) Critical Spatial Practice and Urban Poor Politics: (Re) Imagining Housing in a Flood Prone Jakarta. Society and Space: Critical Geographies in Action Available at:

Colven, E. (2017). The Politics of Flood Mitigation in Jakarta. Situated UPE Blog

Colven, E. (2017). Understanding the Allure of Big Infrastructure: Jakarta's Great Garuda Sea Wall Project. Water Alternatives, 10(2) 250-264.

Leitner, H., Colven, E. and E. Sheppard (2017). “Ecological Security for Whom? The Politics of Flood Alleviation and Urban Environmental Justice in Jakarta, Indonesia” in Ursula K. Heise, Jon Christensen and Michelle Niemann (eds.) The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities. 194 – 205. Routledge: New York.

Other Publications

Colven, E. & M. J. Thomson (2019). Bridging the divide between human and physical geography: Potential avenues for collaborative research on climate modeling. Geography Compass. Available via early access here. doi: 10.1111/gec3.12418 

Leitner, H., Sheppard, E., Webber, S., & Colven, E. (2018). Globalizing urban resilience. Urban Geography, 1278-1284.


The Economist (2019, Sep 19) Climate change is forcing Asian cities to rethink their flood defences. Available online at: