Extractivism & Activism at Sea, AAG MSY 2018.

2018 Sammler, K. Ship vs Boat: Extractivism & Activism at Sea. American Association of Geographers . New Orleans LA, 10-14 Apr.


As the deep seabed, yet again, is being promoted as the next frontier for large-scale resource extraction projects that brandish potentially huge riches, it is important to look to those that are resisting offshore development practices. From paddle boarders building a coalition of resistance to seabed mining, Zodiac boats blocking survey vessels in a marine mammal sanctuary, kayaktivists impeding drilling platforms sailing to the Arctic, to flotillas spreading a message of ocean protection village by village, groups across the Pacific are engaging in new forms of resistance. Ocean issues might themselves be a new frontier for organizing tactics and strategies, strategies that like the ocean itself flow across borders, industries, interest groups and can be used to forge connections and build solidarity. Following on this, and employing what Steinberg and Peters call a “wet ontology,” we might consider how we can further employ  “wet” coalitions, resistances, and emancipations on, in, and near the sea.

SESSION: Towards a critical geography of ships I & II

ORGANIZERS: Nick Anderman (University of California, Berkeley) and Elizabeth Sibilia (The Graduate Center, The City University of New York)

Ships floundering, blocked and struck at sea have made headlines with surprising regularity in the past year. Most recently, non-US flagged ships were controversially prohibited by US law from delivering aid to Puerto Rico for more than a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall, contributing to a steadily worsening humanitarian crisis on the island. This follows fatal collisions between US Naval ships and large commercial vessels in Japanese territorial waters and the South China Sea; a debilitating ransomware attack on the world’s largest container shipping company, A.P. Moller-Maersk; and the mid-2016 bankruptcy of the South Korean container carrier Hanjin, which left the firm’s entire fleet—some 95 ships strewn across the world’s shipping lanes and moored at ports in more than 25 countries––in a state of legal limbo. These events suggest that ships, which for decades have remained largely invisible (Sekula 1995, Sekula and Burch 2010, Hasty and Peters 2012), are increasingly understood to be public matters of concern (Latour 2004, 2008).

A raft of recent scholarship from across the social sciences focuses on ocean-going ships in the context of global logistics and military systems (Chua 2015, Cowen 2014, Danyluk et al. forthcoming), mobility studies (Birtchnell et al. 2015, Hasty and Peters 2012, Peters 2014), and historical geography (Bonner 2016, Hasty 2014). In many of these accounts, ships are taken to be relatively unambiguous objects, with clearly demarcated physical boundaries and straightforward––albeit manifold––cultural meanings. More often than not, they are deployed as signifiers of the reach of globalized capital or as nodes in complex infrastructural assemblages. But just what are ships? What kinds of spaces, knowledge and subjects do they produce and enable, both at sea, on shore, and far inland? How do they shape contemporary life?

Echoing and extending recent calls to put ships at the center of geographic inquiry (Hasty and Peters 2012, Anim-Addo et al 2014), we invite original research, conceptual studies and critical reflections focused on ships. Our starting premise is that there are not immediately obvious––or uncontestable––meanings for ships. They are always, but never only, political, material, financial, temporal, and conceptual objects, with diffuse and contradictory histories and effects. Contributions may address all kinds of ships and ship-related topics and issues, including shipbreaking, shipbuilding, maritime law, ports and port politics, navigational technologies, the steadily increasing scale of shipping, seafarers, ships in the Black Atlantic, the history and current state of containerization, etc. Critical and speculative work that theorizes ships’ relation(s) to everyday life, broadly construed, is particularly welcome.


Anim-Addo, A., Hasty, W., and Peters, K. (2014) “The Mobilities of Ships and Shipped Mobilities” Mobilities, 9, 3: 337-349.

Birtchnell, T., S. Savitzky and J. Urry (2015) ‘Moving cargos’, in Birtchnell, T., S. Savitzky and J. Urry (eds) Cargomobilities: Moving materials in a global age, New York and London: Routledge.

Bonner, R. (2016) “The Salt Water Civil War: Thalassological Approaches, Ocean-Centered Opportunities” The Journal of the Civil War Era, 6, 2: 243-267.

Chua, C. (2015-) ‘The Disorder of Things’ WWW URL http://thedisorderofthings.com/author/charmchua/ (accessed 10.7.2017).

Danyluk, M., Chua, C., Cowen, D., and Khalili, L. (forthcoming) “Introduction. Turbulent Circulation: Towards a Critical Logistics Studies,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Hasty, W. (2014) “Metamorphosis Afloat: Pirate Ships, Politics and Process, c.1680–1730” Mobilities, 9, 3: 350-468.

Hasty, W. and Peters, K. (2012) “The Ship in Geography and the Geographies of Ships” Geography Compass, 6, 11: 660–676.

Latour, B. (2004) “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” Critical Inquiry 30: 225-248.

Latour, B. (2008) What is the Style of Matters of Concern?, Assen: Van Gorcum.

Peters, K. (2014), “Tracking (Im)mobilities at Sea: Ships, Boats and Surveillance Strategies” Mobilities, 9, 3: 414-431.

Sekula, A. (1995) Fish Story, Rotterdam and Dusseldorf: Richter Verlag.

Sekula, A. and N. Burch (2010) The Forgotten Space, directed by Allan Sekula and Noel

Burch, Doc.Eye Film, WILDart FILM and Icarus Films, 2010, DVD.


Katherine Genevieve Sammler, California State University – Maritime Academy, Ships vs Boats: Extractivism and Activism at Sea.

Maya Weeks, UC Davis, From logistics to trash vortex: shipping, marine debris, and the limits of reproduction.

Luc Renaud, Universite De Montreal, Cruise Tourism Industry: Spatial Distribution of Power and Territorial Appropriation Dynamics in the Context of Destination Development.

Kimberly Monk, Trent University, Empire, Identity and Maritime Mobilities: Characterizing the Provincial Marine.

Jessica Lehman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, The Matter 20 of a Shipwreck.

Terence Rudolph, York University, The Geoeconomics of 20 Commercial Rescue on the Mediterranean Sea.

Julian Stenmanns, Ships, stowaways and contested mobilities: 20 A viapolitical analysis of supply chain capitalism.

Nicholas Anderman, University of California – Berkeley, 20 Boredom on container ships.

DISCUSSANT: Martin Danyluk University of Toronto.