RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2015

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30 Wet Geographies I: Under the Sea: Geographies of the Deep
Affiliation Political Geography Research Group
Social and Cultural Geography Research Group
Coastal and Marine Research Group
Convenor(s) Rachael Squire (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Cordelia Freeman (The University of Nottingham, UK)
Chair(s) Rachael Squire (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Cordelia Freeman (The University of Nottingham, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 02 September 2015, Session 2 (11:10 - 12:50)
Room Forum - Seminar Room 2
Session abstract Recent geographical scholarship has fervently challenged the flat horizontalism that has long shaped understandings of space and the operation of power over territory (see Elden, 2013). However, in spite of moves to take seriously a world of verticality and volume (see also Adey, 2012), the sea (surface, water column and sea bottom) has been largely omitted in discussions that have moved geographies beyond areal or surface dimensions. The inaccessibility of the sea, which often rationalises its exclusion from academic debate (Steinberg 1999), poses particular problems when turning our attention to underwater spaces. It is widely acknowledged that we know less of the deep seas than we do of outer space.
The vitalities, mobilities, and materialities of the seas are increasingly being explored in geographical scholarship to both gain an understanding of this traditionally neglected space and to produce ‘wet ontologies’ that have wide application on terra firma (Steinberg and Peters, forthcoming). This session sits within this maritime turn and seeks to advance critical geographic scholarship on the sea by engaging with cultural-political questions of human interactions with, and in, the complex environment of undersea space. How is the sea’s ever changing materiality, from liquid, to solid, to vapour, better understood through frames of height and depth, and how does this voluminous matter come to bear on how humans interact with it? How has the sea been inhabited and made known through ‘depth’? How is the legal zoning of the seas – from territorial waters, exclusive economic zones, through to the high seas and the outer continental shelves and deep seabed – impacted by questions of depth?

These questions could be explored via activities such as surveying, fishing and whaling, deep sea mining, where undersea space, resources, and life are brought to the surface, through oceanographic or militaristic technologies, or perhaps through embodied acts of diving. We welcome papers that speak to these themes and others that will advance this field by exploring how the sea’s geophysics and materiality are experienced and negotiated.
Linked Sessions Wet Geographies II Water in the Anthropocene: creative approaches to understanding and re-thinking human-water relationships (Alternative Knowledge) (1)
Wet Geographies II: Water in the Anthropocene: creative approaches to understanding and re-thinking human-water relationships (Discourses and engagement) (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2015@rgs.org
Guarding and Teaching the Deep: The Kuwait Dive Team and Environmental Volunteerism
Rebecca Farnum (King's College London, UK)
On Christmas Day in 1991, the Government of Kuwait officially accepted an offer from an amateur team of divers to help restore its marine ecosystems following the destruction wrought by Iraqi forces during the 1990 invasion. Since then, the Kuwait Dive Team, nicknamed “Guardians of the Sea”, have salvaged more than five hundred boats; lifted thousands of tons’ worth of nets, tyres, and rubbish; and used their expertise in diving techniques to tell a different story about the Gulf than is frequently seen on Western news. Their mission is to put an end to marine contamination resulting from sunken boats; expertly train volunteers in salvage, rescue, navigation, and underwater techniques; and encourage volunteerism for sustainability.
The sea has often been seen as something inaccessible, unknown, and relatively unclaimed. Yet at the same time, many people’s historical livelihoods and cultures are deeply rooted in sea-based economies. The relative exclusion of the deep sea from academic literature is at odds with the dominance of the oceans in societal structures and imaginations.
This presentation will consider the role of community activism in promoting, protecting, and learning about the deep. The Kuwait Dive Team’s role in building “citizen science” around the marine ecosystems of the Gulf, teaching young Kuwaiti schoolchildren environmental management via mobile beach clean-up activities, and using coral resources as a mechanism for diplomacy will be considered. The presentation will argue that emerging academia on “the deep” should engage with the expertise of existing activist and recreational organisations in order to work toward a greater understanding of what is, after all, the “Blue Planet”.
Deepening the simplified sea
Elspeth Probyn (University of Sydney, Australia)
It is clear that the oceans are in deep trouble. But accustomed as we are to looking out at the surface of the sea, there is less attention to the trouble deep down. According to a team of environmental and marine scientists, we are now living with ‘the unintended consequences of simplifying the sea. ‘Fishing through the food web’ has produced a vastly changed sea, a simplified sea where biodiversity has been stripped. (Leigh Howarth et al., 2014). Once the inshore and the shallow-water fisheries had been rendered too fragile, too expensive or too regulated for the big trawlers, there was nowhere to go but down. In the late 1980s, in what was called ‘the Roughy gold rush’, trawlers racked the seamount troughs of the Southern Ocean off Australia and New Zealand, scooping up in the millions what the New Zealanders called ‘slimehead’ before the marketing types came up with ‘Orange Roughy’. This species lives to over a hundred years, meaning that we could be eating fish that were born ‘before the invention of the automobile.’ The renamed fish was taken up with alacrity to the extent that by the late 1990s it was on SeaWatch’s red/avoid list. By 2015 however it seems likely that the Marine Stewardship Council will certify the NZ Roughy fishery, a prospect heavily criticised by WWF (one of the founders of the MSC system).
Ceremonies of Possession: Performing sovereignty in the Canadian Arctic
Rosanna White (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
The Canadian government of Stephen Harper is publicly committed to asserting Canadian Arctic sovereignty, in particular over the waterways of the ‘Canadian’ North West Passage (NWP), promoting an explicitly geopolitical agenda intent on pushing and ‘performing’ the idea that Canada is an Arctic superpower and a governing presence in the region. This is a cultural enterprise as much as one facilitated by military and diplomatic investment and initiative. When Harper announced that finding Sir John Franklin’s ship HMS Erebus in September 2014 was a truly historic moment for Canada, he used the strategic location of the wreck on the sea bed of the NWP and the materiality and historical presence of the ship to promote a Canadian vision of permanent occupation and strategic presence in the Arctic. By stating that ‘Franklin’s ships are an important part of Canadian history, laying the foundations of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty’, Harper is memorialising the historical exploration of these waterways as part of a Canadian national identity. By searching for these ships over eight years, much of the previously ‘unknown’ seabed of the NWP has been mapped. Alongside declaring the ships as national historic sites, and memorialising the heroic Arctic explorer of Franklin, all these embodied practices are utilised in association with occupying the North West Passage sea route. Furthermore, the embodied act of Canadian divers searching for the ships aid military activities in patrolling and surveying the NWP. In this way, this paper seeks to explore how the search for and discovery of Franklin’s ships has contributed to Canada’s Artic sovereignty claim.
Giving new depth to territory: reconfiguring volume through oceanic thinking
Philip E. Steinberg (Durham University, UK)
Kim Peters (Aberystwyth University, UK)
In recent years, scholars have sought to reconfigure understandings of territory through attentiveness to the vertical and voluminous dimensions that shape the use and control of space (see Adey et al. 2013; Elden 2013; Graham and Hewitt 2013; Weizmann 2002). Such approaches have challenged the inherent ‘horizontalism’ that has dominated studies of geographical territory. However we contend that - in remaining stubbornly ‘landlocked’ - such novel approaches still fail to account for the volume that emerges when one acknowledges the material nature of vertical spaces. In this article, through oceanic thinking, we attend to a new way of engaging with territory and volume. Our turn to the sea is guided by recognition that the ocean is not a flat, horizontal, void to be crossed, but one of depth and volume that creates a new, productive way of understanding space. Drawing on two examples (the missing plane MH370, the drifting ship MV Orlova) we propose the development of a ‘Wet Ontology’ (Peters and Steinberg 2014; Steinberg and Peters 2015). Accordingly, we demonstrate how thinking with the sea allows us to reinvigorate, redirect, and reshape territorial debates that are all too often restricted by terrestrial limits.
Discussant
Alex Jeffrey (University of Cambridge, UK)
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