Granular Geographies of Endless Growth: Singaporean territory, Cambodian sand, and the fictions of sovereignty

William Jamieson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

419 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis writes the site of Singapore’s prosthetic territory: sand, a covert and critical seam of the city-state’s political economy of which it can never seem to rid itself. Sand is a crucial ingredient of the city-state’s land reclamation project, which has expanded its total area from 581km2 in 1959 to 728.3km2 in 2020. Between 2007 and 2017, 80 million tonnes of sand made its way from Cambodia to Singapore. The remote coastal province of Koh Kong was the principal frontier, whose porous opening and closing pockmarked the underbelly of Singaporean statecraft with the livelihoods and ecologies of one of the largest mangrove forests in Southeast Asia. These 80 million tonnes posed the most explicit and intimate enveloping of Singapore’s spatial governance – the seemingly unproblematic and awe-inspiring reclamation of tabula rasa – and Cambodia’s authoritarian plunder of territory.
This thesis argues that sand’s mobilisation in the production of territory materially and semiotically inverts the logic of colonisation. Instead of invading, occupying, and dispossessing another territory of its resources, territory is extracted as a resource to expand an internal frontier. Adapting geographical practices of place-writing and architectural site-writing, this thesis formulates a mode of critical-creative writing to reconnect the fragmented landscapes of extraction and reclamation. It does so by integrating aspects of political geography with literary theory, providing a methodological account of how capitalism ‘reads’ and ‘writes’ space. Sand, in its granular materiality, is a text extracted to unwrite one place, and reclaimed to write another. The writing of this thesis maps the interconnection between Singapore’s model of global city with Koh Kong through sand to reveal how the speculation at the core of Singapore’s statecraft is premised on chaotic, wanton extraction: how the fictions of its sovereignty bind and fragment into reality, tonne by tonne.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Crang, Philip, Supervisor
  • Brickell, Katherine, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Sand
  • Territory
  • Singapore
  • Cambodia
  • Reclamation
  • creative methods
  • Creative practice
  • Creative Writing
  • political geography

Cite this