CONFERENCE: A Sea View (Abstract)

Bridget Anderson

University of Bristol

The ocean is the antithesis of a frame. What is a framework? A structure that can hold or support conceptual/theoretical/empirical practice, in contrast, looking from the ocean we are ‘at sea’. For social scientists the sea offers an ecosystem rather than a framework. It is also an opportunity to think from the outside, not container societies.

I will suggest that there are many elements of this ecosystem that are exciting for social scientists, and will touch on three. Firstly, as an ecosystem we engage in relationships between organisms and non- living matter requiring us to think not only about geography but geology. Secondly, the sea is endlessly in motion, and this mobility seems to render the sea ungovernable. ‘Let all know how empty and worthless is the power of kings’ as Canute said, faced with the ineluctable tide. Relatedly, what can we learn about the nature of statehood from attention to this space where exceptional legal rules apply and where the criminal and the political are collapsed in the figure of the ‘pirate’? Thirdly, the sea has always been an imaginative space, it can be used as a canvas (e.g. Project Utopia), but conversely ‘sea blindness’ can mean we drain the sea of cultural meaning, even as world trade continues to rely on seafaring.

I will then compare migrants and pirates as ‘the enemy of all’ as an example of how a sea view can give new insights into contemporary politics and resistance.