chapter  13
21 Pages

Civil society and interdependencies: towards a regional political ecology of Mekong development

ByPHILIP HIRSCH

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The Mekong River has become an icon of regional integration and contested development in mainland Southeast Asia. Geopolitical change in Indochina, Thailand’s rapid economic growth and economic transformation during the 1980s and 1990s until the financial crisis of 1997, and the reorientation of the ‘socialist market economies’ in the wake of the Cold War have led to a repositioning, both globally and in regional terms. The Mekong is thus much more than a river system, and in many ways the naturalising discourse is more incidental than substantive to the integrative development agenda. Yet the nature of developments in the Mekong Basin also requires attention to biophysical interdependencies that are today more salient than ever, as the river’s macroecology is altered in the name of regional progress. This tension over what exactly defines the Mekong begs the key questions underlying the main theme of this chapter – how is the Mekong understood as a region by different actors?, and how do these understandings enter the contested discourses of development and ecology?