MASTERCLASS > In situ graduate school

Delta cities: rethinking practices of the urban

Can water be the ‘ground’ for rethinking both the past and the future of urbanism? With climate change, water increasingly appears as a threat against which we must fortify ourselves through cement and resilience – in short through a culture of keeping dry, rather than soaking. Experts ranging from climate scientists to urbanists, policy makers and landscape architects are asking how to brace for rising waters and their effects upon our cities.


    More than two thirds of the worlds’ largest and highly populated cities are coastal delta cities, or are situated on estuaries vulnerable to rising sea levels. This In Situ Graduate School on Delta Cities proposes to move beyond the discourses of fortification and to shift the frames of the current debates about these cities. Currently these debates remain focused on either climate-change adaptation and resilience in a very myopic manner or elaborate engineering plans of reshaping the landscape. While landscape architects are exploring the possibilities for designing on soft land (Busquets and Correa 2005), entrepreneurs are going forward with perilous experiments of floating cities along the Polynesian coasts as an answer (Floating City Project by Seasteading Institute). Such a maritime-utopic-amphibious life threatens the fragile land and seascapes in the region. Apart from abetting the expansion of residential capitalism through the legal cover offered by special economic zones, these plans are about control and engineering landscapes rather than living with them. Moreover, much of this conversation is premised upon a bio-scientific understanding of urban ecologies, with little or at best negligent engagement with cultural knowledge about these spaces.

    This In Situ Graduate School is a call to engage with these ideas and projects from the perspectives of the social sciences, arts and humanities in order to inquire how water-centered understandings of space might help us intervene in top-down projects currently underway to address issues of coastal erosion, urban flooding and land subsidence from a different lens.  We are inviting projects that will expand our understanding of living with water and also change our ways of viewing the urban. Deltaic ecologies have been central to urban formations across the world, from Calcutta to Saigon, from Mumbai to New Orleans. How can our understanding of cities be enriched by engaging with the practices of living with water in deltaic cities where the line of separation between land and water is muddied, where landscapes are seasonal and the relation between land and water is defined by the phenomenon of soaking. (Mathur and Da Cunha 2009)

    It thus seeks to spark conversations about the specific relation of living with water that defines delta and coastal cities across Asia through readings, presentations, and site visits. Do cities located in deltas embody specific urban forms, political constellations and modes of habitation? Through what modes can we read the hidden hydrologies of our cities and the traces of their long-forgotten waterways? What can we learn from them? What do various linguistic expressions of land water relations—whether erosion, floods, or breaches—in various languages tell us about our landscape designs and engineering? What has been forgotten in the process? What stories, songs and narratives of deltas can we recover for a robust way to live with water in cities? How can we enrich our own disciplinary work by opening ourselves to other stories, stories told in different modes and different genres? How will an openness to water transform our activism and advocacy in the face of more technological fixes for the future of urban planning?

    The aim of the In Situ Graduate School will be to immerse ourselves in innovative and courageous thinking about the relation between different urban forms from a watery perspective, together with scholars and practitioners working in regionally diverse ecologies in various corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Abstracts are invited from a range of disciplinary backgrounds that use the soaking ecology of tides, silt, delta, estuary and swamp to outline a different praxis of the urban, which is not about land-water separation and containment, but rather a more elastic open relation between them. In keep with IIAS’s mission to rethink the humanities, the In Situ Graduate School hopes to create a space for the practice of experimental knowledge about deltas where various genres of articulations about land and water can be in conversation without the creation of knowledge hierarchies.

    Possible thematic areas to anchor the conversation include:

    1. Cartographies imaginations and the aerial platform
    2. Living and moving with land and water
    3. Space, resource and violence
    4. Nature’s infrastructures

    The In Situ Graduate School will be held from December 10-15, 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City and Long Xuyen, An Giang in Vietnam. In addition to lectures by leading scholars in the field, students will also conduct group projects and conduct fieldtrips to important sites in the Mekong Delta. At the end of the In Situ Graduate School, students will make final public presentations in Ho Chi Minh City.

    David Biggs (University of California, Riverside), Debjani Bhattacharyya (Drexel University), John Agbonifo (Osun State University),  and Phuong Lan Ngo (USSH HCM), will serve as conveners. Coming from different academic traditions with diverse theoretical and methodological expertise, the conveners shall foster an active atmosphere of open discussion, critique, and empirical inquiry. The goal is to facilitate students’ existing research projects in a related field of study through a combination of lectures, fieldtrips, and group work.

    General Information

    For whom

    The In Situ Graduate School on Delta Cities: Rethinking Practices of the Urban is intended for PhD Students or advanced masters’ students. All applicants must be committed to or actively working on original research projects that engage with the In Situ Graduate School theme.


    The application deadline was Thursday 1 March 2018.

    Selection procedure

    The programme allows a maximum of 25 participants. Applicants will be informed of the committee’s decision by 1 May 2018 at the latest. The selection process will be based on the candidate’s application, and it seeks a balance in backgrounds. Please note that we will be unable to provide feedback and comments to those applicants not selected for participation.

    Participation requirements

    Selected participants agree to attend and participate in all events from 10-15 December 2018, including lectures, fieldtrips, and group presentations. Participants also agree to read pre-circulated background materials as generated by the Conveners (as relevant).

    Language requirements

    A working language of English is required and presentations will be in English. No translation/interpretation services will be available during the In Situ Graduate School.

    Registration fee

    Participants must pay the following registration fee: € 400.


    Shared half-board accommodation (breakfast and lunch) for seven nights and two dinners are included for the selected participants.

    Travel costs

    Selected participants are expected to fund their own travel expenses. Limited (partial) scholarships are available. For more information, please see Financial Support. We recommend that you try to raise funds to cover your transportation and/or other expenses as early as possible.


    After you have received the confirmation of your participation, you will receive further information about the payment of the registration fee (due 1 November 2018). You can pay with credit card (Master or Visa) or via bank transfer. 

    Cancellation policy

    Participation in the In Situ Graduate School can be cancelled free of charge until 60 days before the start. If cancellation occurs within 60 days prior to the start of the programme, the fee will not be refunded.


    Participants can receive a certificate for the In Situ Graduate School. 


    The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is a global humanities and social sciences research institute and knowledge exchange platform that supports programmes which engage Asian and other international partners. Aiming to contribute to a more integrated understanding of present-day Asian realities as well as to rethink 'Asian Studies' in a changing global context, IIAS works to encourage dialogue and link expertise, involving scholars and other experts from all around the world in its activities. IIAS thus acts as a global mediator, bringing together academic and non-academic institutes in Asia and other parts of the world, including cultural, societal and policy organisations. IIAS adopts a thematic approach to the study of Asia, fostering research that, by its nature, transcends disciplinary and regional boundaries. The three research foci of IIAS are Asian cities; the uses of culture and cultural heritage; and Asia’s projection into the world and intra-Asian connections. In addition, IIAS remains open to other possibly interesting areas of investigation.

    In addition to supporting international research networks and programmes, IIAS organises different types of academic events throughout the year, many of them in Asia. These include conferences, workshops and seminars, as well as thematic roundtables and Summer/Winter Schools for PhD students. IIAS runs an international fellowship programme and a publication and publishes ‘The Newsletter’, its free periodical on Asian Studies which enjoys a worldwide readership of 50,000. IIAS hosts the secretariat of various networks, including the International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS) and the European Alliance for Asian Studies. All of these activities are based on international cooperation. It is this fundamentally collaborative and inclusive nature that has allowed IIAS to become the most global research-led meeting ground in the field of Asian Studies. 


    The University of Social Sciences and Humanities – Ho Chi Minh City (USSH HCM), established in 1957, has more than 890 faculty members and non-teaching staff. The percentage of the academic staff holding professorial titles or postgraduate degrees is 98.4%. There are more than 22,000 students enrolled in 28 undergraduate programs, 38 postgraduate programs and over 10 joint programs in collaboration with international partners.

    The programs offer students access to a very diverse selection of academic options and enhance students’ capabilities to embrace the challenge of the country’s modernization and industrialization, translating what they learn into professional achievements.

    The university is one of the two biggest institutions in the field of social sciences and humanities in Vietnam. The school is the pioneering institution in offering new academic programs to meet societal demands such as Vietnamese Studies, Oriental Studies, Anthropology, International Relations, Urban Studies, Spanish Linguistics and Literature, Italian Linguistics and Literature, and so on. In addition, the university is the leading institution nationwide in having over 300 registered international students — from Japan, South Korea, Laos, Cambodia, the United States, Singapore, Austria, Turkey, Thailand, and Australia — in degree programs and over 2,000 students enrolled in short-term courses.

    See for more information.

    Engaging with Vietnam was founded in 2009 by Dr. Phan Le Ha (Full Professor in the College of Education, University of Hawaii at Manoa), who was then a faculty member in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia. Since 2011, Dr. Liam C. Kelley, Associate Professor in the Department of History, University of Hawaii at Manoa, has become another key person jointly developing EWV with Phan Le Ha. EWV was founded in the context of increasing globalization and internationalization and knowledge mobility and their multi-dimensional interactions with and impacts on a changing Vietnam. EWV’s main purpose has been to create a regular, rigorous and committed arena for scholarly inter/multi-disciplinary dialogues among scholars, researchers, policy makers, and public intellectuals across generations working on and interested in Vietnam and/or Vietnam-related scholarship. Over the years EWV has also attracted a new group of participants - curators, artists and artist scholars whose works have benefited from and inspired academic scholarship in many ways. 

    Annual inter/multi-disciplinary scholarly conferences are a major part of EWV. Each conference focuses on one theme. Critical and evolving questions regarding knowledge production on, about, for, from, by, in and of Vietnam are central to EWV’s annual conferences. To date there have been nine EWV conferences co-organized by a number of institutions and organizations in Vietnam, Australia, and the United States. 2018 will marked the 10th anniversary of EWV. There will be a series of activities throughout 2018 to celebrate this milestone accomplishment of EWV; and jointly organizing the Delta Winter School 2018 in Vietnam is one such activity. Visit for more information.