EDITED BOOK (2018): Living with Floods in a Mobile Southeast Asia: A Political Ecology of Vulnerability, Migration and Environmental Change Published by Earthscan-Routledge

EDITED BOOK (2013): On the Move: Critical Migration Themes in Southeast Asia International Organization on Migration Published by (IOM) and the Asia Research Center on Migration (ARCM), Chulalongkorn University.

Further information

Download a PowerPoint about the project here.

Download a Poster about the project here.


Contact Dr Carl Middleton for further details. 

Flooding is a common experience in monsoonal regions of South East Asia, where diverse flood regimes have for centuries shaped agrarian and fisheries-based livelihoods.

Southeast Asia is also a very mobile region; many households pursue domestic and trans-national migration strategies for reasons that range from diversifying income sources, including across different locations (i.e. multi-local livelihoods), to spreading household risks related to environmental, economic and political shocks. Whilst regular seasonal floods are often beneficial in rural areas, where livelihood strategies adapt to “living with floods”, in urban-centric public discourse floods are often framed as being catastrophic and in need of control. In relation to migration, unmanaged destructive floods provoke alarmist discourses that raise the specter of mass migration through displacement, and associated prejudices towards those displaced.  

The purpose of this research project is to complicate simplistic analyses that assume a one-way causality between floods and mass migration, and to offer instead an approach that sensitizes flood management and disaster response policies to the complexity of migration and mobility. Our starting point is that flood hazards are produced through socio-political processes that reflect the interaction of natural phenomena with human activities, such as urbanisation, deforestation and other modifications to hydrological systems. We propose a “political ecology of mobility” that incorporates a nuanced appreciation of diverse forms of floods, and a recognition of varieties of migration (ranging from permanent to seasonal; local to transnational). From this, we develop an interdisciplinary account of vulnerability and resilience sensitive to livelihood, location, socio-economic status, and level of political voice.

The project started in December 2013, and is organized around four urban case studies in Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar; and four rural cases studies in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia. Each case study has been selected to represent the diversity of flood regimes in the region (from seasonal, ‘beneficial’ floods in rural areas through to urban flash floods and coastal inundation) as well as to different migration contexts.

Emergent findings from the project to date include:

•    People’s “vulnerability” to flooding in Southeast Asia reflects a larger story of socio-economic and political inequality; destructive floods disproportionately affect those from lower socio-economic groups who lack of access to secure forms of livelihood, and have a weak voice in political processes. 
•    In urban case studies, migrants are often blamed for living in risky places, rather than recognizing the wider socio-political circumstances that locate them there. They are often subject to policies that regulate their movement, including forced resettlement, and that reinforces vulnerability
•    The effects of floods are mitigated or exacerbated by institutionalized response strategies (or the lack thereof), as well as shaped by long-term development planning policies that include the construction of infrastructure intended to manage floods but that also redistribute risks from one (often privileged) group to another. 
•    People living with floods may express their agency through vulnerability reductionstrategies that include migration to: spread risk across multiple locations; and by being able to move away when disaster strikes

The project is undertaken in collaboration with:

•    Asian Research Center for Migration, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University
•    Master of Arts in International Development Studies Program, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University
•    School of Environment and Technology, University of Brighton
•    Institute of Asian Studies (IAS), Chulalongkorn University
•    Chulalongkorn University Social Research Institute (CUSRI), Chulalongkorn University
•    Stockholm Environment Institute (Asia)
•    Southeast Asia Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (SEADPRI-UKM)
•    Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC)
•    Asian Institute of Technology
•    Faculty of Sociology, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

The project has received support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Stockholm Environment Institute; and Chula Global Network, and is led by the Asian Research Center for Migration of Chulalongkorn University.