What we do

The Floating Laboratory of Action & Theory at Sea (FLOATS) is an international experimental platform aiming to generate, pluralize and popularize social-scientific knowledge of the seas through research, teaching, public campaigns and community work.

Our hope is to offer a continuous critical commentary on the perils of the current, worldwide domination of territorial and terrestrial frameworks. We take seriously the idea of “floating,” whether in terms of the state of contemporary forms of mobility and rootlessness at sea or by way of a series of "floating conversations" over the many past and present challenges as well as the creative opportunities for action and theory provided by seas, shorelines and waterways.

Bringing together academics, artists, activists and others, FLOATS rotates through various seas, islands and port cities. Having started first with the Mediterranean, docking in the island of Lesvos, it then moved through the Atlantic and stopped at the island of New York City.

We hope to continue to land periodically at maritime sites to engage communities and host open meetings, foster research, promote creative engagements, and raise public awareness around this last and now ever-threatened terraqueous global commons.

FLOATS sails the seas with four different anchors:

Research Network: Our participants and local partners come from a wide variety of academic disciplines and research backgrounds; hailing from three continents, our Advisory Board members similarly represent a wide range of different perspectives on the sea from their respective locales and research interests. Our focus areas range from history to anthropology, and from political ecology to human geography. For more on the research interests of the Advisory Board, click here.

Public Campaigns: FLOATS has held two major meetings in its founding year of 2018.

The FLOATS first summer meeting took place on the Greek island of Lesvos entitled “Utopias at Sea? Resistance, Refuge and Research”, in collaboration with the Department of History and Anthropology and the Summer School, on Migration, Borders and Culture at University of Aegean. Check out our PoLAR articles to learn more.

The FLOATS first winter meeting took place in New York City, entitled “Capitalism at Sea: Containments and Commons”, in collaboration with Columbia University’s Center for Science and Society, and The New School for Social Research and the Multiple Mobilities Group, who organized the theme “Water Mobilities”

In summer 2019 we will tentatively begin the first Summer Institute for People’s Histories and Ethnographies of the Sea (SIPHES). It will involve a close collaboration between FLOATS experts and local communities, to mutually benefit from each other’s knowledge and experience when engaging with the sea. Click here for more information.

Teaching Modules: FLOATS will soon be starting a series of teaching modules on special topics of interest such as Histories and Ethnographies of the Sea, Labor and Law at Sea, Mapping Maritime Spaces, and the Political Ecology of the Sea, to name but a few. These modules will be taught in cooperation with local sea-based communities, labor organizations, maritime institutes, and others.

Community Work: We are currently aiming to foster more intensive research-based engagements with local sea-based communities around a number of issues, including the relationship between land and sea or the politics of shorelines; human and non-human migratory patterns and human refugees at sea; environmental destruction and preservation; and historical and contemporary problems around the international law of the seas. We hope to work collaboratively to exchange ideas and knowledge as well as to foster broader public awareness of and action around the seas.



Advisory Board


Marwa Elshakry is an Associate Professor, and teaches on a broad range of subjects in the history of science, technology, and medicine and modern Arabic intellectual history. Her first book, entitled, Reading Darwin in Arabic was published in 2013 with the University of Chicago Press. Among her other publications are: “Translation” in Blackwell Companion to the History of Science (Wiley Press, 2016); “Islam” in Michael Saler, ed., The Fin-de-Siècle World (Routledge, 2014; Elshakry and Sujit Sivasundaram, eds., Science, Race and Imperialism [Victorian Literature and Science series: vol. 6], (Pickering and Chatto, 2012); and ‘When Science became Western: historiographical reflections’, Isis, 101:1 (March 2010), 98-109. She is currently working on the idea of golden ages, universal histories and the history of science and orientalism from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries. She received her M.A. (1997) and Ph.D. (2003) from Princeton. Marwa is co-navigator of FLOATS.


Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is an Assistant Professor at the Departments of Political Studies and Public Administration & Sociology, Anthropology and Media Studies at the American University of Beirut. His research interests include the expert politics of war and peace in the Middle East, and more recently the solidarity politics of the sea in the Mediterranean. He received his Ph.D. from Universität Zürich. Nikolas is co-navigator of FLOATS.


Georgios Kallis, is an ICREA Research Professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). He is an environmental scientist working on ecological economics and political ecology. Before coming to Barcelona, he was a Marie Curie International Fellow at the Energy and Resources Group of the University of California at Berkeley. Giorgos holds a PhD in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of the Aegean in Greece, a Masters in Economics from Universitat Pompeu Fabra, and a Masters in Environmental Engineering and a Bachelors in Chemistry from Imperial College, London. 

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Elisa Kim is an Assistant Professor of Art at Smith College. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in energy and environmental policy from Boston University and a Master of architecture from Washington University in St. Louis. Kim's research combines methodologies from environmental policy with architectural drawing and representation to engage a wide set of concerns about the environment, borders and boundaries. Her current oceanic mappings question the agency of the line and the illusion of the fixity of the map as an outlined artifact delineating cultural, political and social bodies from one another.

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Kevin St Martin is as Associate Professor at Rutgers University. He is a human geographer whose work is at the intersection of economic geography, political ecology, and critical applications of GIScience. His research concerns the development and institutionalization of economic and environmental discourse. It emerges from a strong background in both social theory and spatial analysis, and it has been clearly and consistently linked to issues of environmental policy. While at Rutgers, he has worked on several well-funded research projects that have in common the regulation and transformation of the marine environment.


Venetia Kantsa is an Associate Professor at the University of the Aegean. She was born in Thessaloniki in 1966. She studied philosophy at the University of Ioannina (1987), social anthropology at the University of the Aegean (1995), and holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, University of London (2001). Her research interests focus on anthropology of kinship, anthropology of gender and sexuality, queer theory, anthropology of science, and Greek ethnography. She has conducted extensive fieldwork on women’s same-sex sexuality in Greece, the visibility of same-sex desires, same-sex families, motherhood and new forms of parenthood, the summer lesbian community in Eresos and the history of the lesbian movement.

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Yaser Abunnasr is an Associate Professor at the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management at the American University of Beirut. He is trained as an architect and a landscape architect and holds degrees in both fields. He received his Ph.D. in Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

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Heather M. O'Brien is an Assistant Professor at the Fine Arts & Art History department at the American University of Beirut. She holds a BA in Music from Loyola University New Orleans and an MFA in Photography and Media from California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles. Her work explores how capitalist desire and militaristic legacy construct our ideas about home. In working with photographs, film, installation, performance, writing and book projects, she seeks to build encounters around issues that impact American cultural imagination, from familial archives to the illusion of accurate memory.