AAG 2019 CfP: Assembling Benthic Power

(Image copyright 2003, MBARI.)

Face the perils of the deep with us!

CfP – Assembling Benthic Power
AAG Annual Meeting, April 3-7, 2019, Washington, DC

Jesse Swann-Quinn, Syracuse University
Kate Sammler, California State University Maritime Academy

Specialty Group Sponsors: Coastal and Marine; Cultural and Political Ecology; Political Geography

The rich yet unfamiliar benthic world, named for the Greek benthos or ‘depth of the sea,’ is increasingly shaped by human practices, politics, and technologies. Ocean ecologists refer to these complex ecological communities that emerge on both natural and artificial sea floor habitats as ‘benthic assemblages’ (Bolam et al., 2017; Megina et al., 2016). Among many other physical elements these ecosystems comprise mineral-rich hydrothermal vents, extreme pressure and darkness, and species yet unknown to science. Meanwhile, a diverse range of social scientists demonstrate that ‘offshore’ human activities similarly provide new arrangements of geopolitical, economic, and ecological relationships. Yet scholars often define these socio-material assemblages as existing only offshore. We tend to view these spaces as either removed from ‘the mainland,’ peripheral land at or above sea level, or as part of a general volume of ‘the sea’ or ‘the ocean’ (for exceptions, see: Elden, 2013; Sammler, 2017; Squire, 2018; Steinberg & Peters, 2015). Rarely do we consider these specific territories and spaces extending to earth below even our deepest waters, comprising complex spaces of intersecting volumes and planes: the benthic world located at the bottom of the sea.

Such concerns are increasingly necessary as humanity progressively enrolls the diverse materialities of the sea floor – long a ‘frontier’ of many sorts – within our political assemblages (Barry, 2001; Braun, 2006; Dittmer, 2014; Ong & Collier, 2004; Robbins & Marks, 2010). These formations generate particularly perplexing problems as the benthic world still most often remains distant and invisible, located in waters both legally and physically murky, and profoundly unknown compared to other global surfaces or more accessible habitats located higher in the water column. However, new technologies, emerging infrastructures, and shifting geopolitical events transform these geographies of centrality, proximity, and distance, increasingly drawing ocean depths metaphorically closer to shore.

This session draws together scholarship which might contribute to a greater understanding of the diverse set of social and material relationships that produce these deep-water assemblages, what we might call an emerging field of ‘benthic power.’ Potential contributions may address material, political, affective, or symbolic perspectives (among others), possibly, but not exclusively, related to one or more of the following topics:

– Undersea cable networks and ocean infrastructures
– Communication systems, espionage, and security
– Deep sea mining projects
– Oil drilling ecologies
– Geopolitics and territoriality of deep ocean commons
– Ocean grabbing
– Marine politics and scientific research
– Offshoring of economic, legal, or security forces
– Ports, hubs, and transportation routes
– Struggles of sovereignty and security at sea

Interested participants should submit abstracts (under 250 words) to Jesse Swann-Quinn <jquinn@syr.edu> and Kate Sammler <ksammler@csum.edu> by October 15, 2018 for full consideration.


Barry, A. (2001). Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society (1 edition). London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Bolam, S. G., Garcia, C., Eggleton, J., Kenny, A. J., Buhl-Mortensen, L., Gonzalez-Mirelis, G., … Rijnsdorp, A. D. (2017). Differences in biological traits composition of benthic assemblages between unimpacted habitats. Marine Environmental Research, 126, 1–13.

Braun, B. (2006). Environmental issues: global natures in the space of assemblage. Progress in Human Geography; London, 30(5), 644–654.

Dittmer, J. (2014). Geopolitical assemblages and complexity. Progress in Human Geography, 38(3), 385–401.

Elden, S. (2013). Secure the volume: Vertical geopolitics and the depth of power. Political Geography, 34, 35–51.

Megina, C., González-Duarte, M. M., & López-González, P. J. (2016). Benthic assemblages, biodiversity and invasiveness in marinas and commercial harbours: an investigation using a bioindicator group. Biofouling, 32(4), 465–475.

Ong, A., & Collier, S. J. (Eds.). (2004). Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (1 edition). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Robbins, P., & Marks, B. (2010). Assemblage Geographies. In S. Smith, R. Pain, S. A. Marston, & J. P. Jones (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Geographies (pp. 176–195). SAGE Publications.

Sammler, K. (2017). The Deep Pacific: Island Governance and Seabed Mineral Development. In E. Stratford (Ed.), Island Geographies: Essays and Conversations (pp. 10–35). New York: Routledge.

Squire, R. (2018). Sub-marine territory: living and working on the seafloor during the Sealab II experiment. In K. Peters, P. Steinberg, & E. Stratford (Eds.), Territory Beyond Terra. London ; New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Steinberg, P., & Peters, K. (2015). Wet Ontologies, Fluid Spaces: Giving Depth to Volume through Oceanic Thinking. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 33(2), 247–264.

(Image copyright 2003, MBARI.)