Journal of Political Ecology (2017-09-01)

"Bird cages and boiling pots for potential diseases": contested ecologies of urban 'Swiftlet farming' in George Town, Malaysia

  • Creighton Connolly

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 24, no. 1
pp. 24 – 43


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Abstract This article details the social construction of the 'swiftlet farming' industry in George Town, Malaysia. It argues that narratives of health and disease continually police which landscape practices are acceptable for the increasingly globalizing and image conscious city. 'Swiftlet farming' refers to the use of inner city shophouses and other commercial buildings for harvesting the edible nests of swiftlets (constructed from their saliva). Due to the high global demand and prices for birds' nests, the number of swiftlet farms have exploded in cities and towns across the country over the past decade, as entrepreneurs have been trying to cash in on the lucrative industry. The competing discourses and reactions to swiftlet farming in George Town, particularly in relation to its alleged potential for causing outbreaks of disease such as avian flu or dengue fever offer an apt entry point for studying this contested normative landscape. In doing so, I draw on recent writing on landscape and political ecology to analyze how swiftlet farm(er)s have been politicized by various stakeholders as (in)appropriate for the urban landscape. The article concludes by considering the significance of such an approach can help to make sense of the contradictions and uncertainties that abound in urban health controversies. Key words: political ecology, health, disease, landscape, birds' nest, Malaysia