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Seasonality in the Anthropocene: on the construction of Southeast Asia’s 'haze season'

Liu, Felicia, Smith, T. E. L. ORCID: 0000-0001-6022-5314, Yian, Vernon and Holden, John (2023) Seasonality in the Anthropocene: on the construction of Southeast Asia’s 'haze season'. Southeast Asia Working Paper Series (6). London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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The widespread burning of tropical peatlands across regions of Malaysia and Indonesia is now considered an annual event in equatorial Southeast Asia. The fires cause poor air quality (‘haze’) across the region, affecting the health of millions, but little has been written about how people in Southeast Asia make sense of this recurring phenomenon. In this paper, we investigate the emergent social construction of the ‘haze season’. Borrowing from anthropology literature, we define ‘seasons’ as a social construct that enables societies to organise their livelihoods around the expectation of recurring phenomena. The construction of ‘haze season’, in turn, reflects ongoing deliberation and contestation of the societal perception of and reaction to the causes and effects of haze. To do that, we analysed more than 35,000 news articles published in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to investigate the timing of haze season reporting and key themes associated with the season. Deploying keyness analysis and structural topic modelling (STM), we find a strong distinction between the themes of articles written about the ‘haze season’ and articles that simply refer to the haze problem alone. Articles that mention ‘haze’ but not ‘haze season’ focus on the root causes of the haze crisis – peatland fires in Indonesia, oil palm plantations, deforestation – as well as geopolitical cooperation to prevent fires (e.g., through ASEAN). We found that the ‘haze season’ articles have a strong association with the effects of the haze crisis, particularly during the haze season months (June to October), suggesting that seasonality plays a role in adaptation behaviour. Outside of the haze season months, articles focus more on haze mitigation and associated political action. As a season that has emerged entirely as the result of human activity, affecting hundreds of millions of people over a spatial extent of millions of square kilometres, we argue that the ‘haze season’ is a ‘Season of the Anthropocene’. We suggest that we should expect more seasons of the Anthropocene as environmental crises and our response to those crises become more acute through this century.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 The Authors
Divisions: LSE
Geography & Environment
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2023 15:03
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2023 00:03

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