Political Constructions of Sea Level. AAG BOS 2017.


2017 Sammler, K. Material, Technical, and Political Constructions of Sea Level. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, Boston MA, 5-9, Apr.


TITLE: Material, Technical, and Political Constructions of Sea Level

ABSTRACT: This paper will examine how the physical factors of the ocean are entangled with legal discourses mutually constituting state performances of expanding offshore territoriality. While emerging spatial theories have been pushing political geography away from limiting territorial thinking to two-dimensional, planar areas, it is becoming increasingly important that we extend theoretical and empirical inquiry, to include the third, vertical spatial dimension, to explicitly identify volume as an important aspect of political, social, and cultural spheres. Thinking through the depths of ocean territories and their impacts on legal designations and practices untaken at various vertical layers reveals the continual (re)negotiations that are occurring between broad international treaty language and the implementation of jurisdictions and actions in the ocean, on the seabed, and in the airspace above offshore jurisdictions.

Political spatial arrangements that configure state spaces which are not maintained by conventional borders delimiting internally sovereign areas, new geopolitical and geometric imaginaries are created to justify new interpretations and performances of territory and sovereignty. Applying Weizman’s rationale that, “departure from a planar division of a territory to the creation of three-dimensional boundaries across sovereign bulks redefines the relationship between sovereignty and space” (2002), this research inquires: How do emerging laws and regulations, investments and pursuits in ocean space serve to destabilize previous land-biased definitions, understandings, and practices of sovereignty and territory? What might submerged oceanic spaces offer to theoretical understandings of vertical sovereignty and territory?

KEY WORDS: Boundaries, geopolitics, Pacific Ocean, political geography, seabed, sovereignty, United Nations Law of the Sea, territory, volume.

SESSION: Multispheres: Legal & Political Geographies of Geophysical Interfaces, I & II

ORGNIZERS: Katherine Genevieve Sammler & Zachary Paul Sugg

In this session we wish to consider how legal and political of the most destructive environmental disasters of this century have involved events of subterranean wealth unlocked, and inadvertently unleashed. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill ejecting oil into the ocean, and the less reported on 2015 Porter Ranch methane leak in California are examples of the material exchanges which occur when industry increases the porosity of these surfaces. Mediums of soil, water, and air — solid, liquid, and gaseous states of matter — are often imagined as discrete entities considerations take account of, or dismiss, geophysical materialities. In examining these relationships and their logics, we seek papers that address the plane where different materials interface. Some or framed politically and legally as distinct regimes. The vast volumes of ocean, atmosphere, and subterranean have been disassembled by reductive legal framings into more manageable geometries of points, lines and planes. Yet, these interfaces, where the spheres of geo, hydro, and atmo meet, are not restricted by the boundaries traced upon them and can prove violently noncompliant through their mixing, leaking, penetrability, and porosity.

Through this session we seek to engage cross-pollinating theorizations of geophysical mediums, elements, volumes, planes, surfaces, interfaces with recent movement in legal geography towards conceiving of space and law in relational and “nomospheric” terms (Braverman et al., 2014; Delaney, 2010). How might thinking of geophysical mediums as produced “…through the spatiality of flow, juxtaposition, porosity and relational connectivity” (Aminy, 2002) rather than as a set of static artifacts help us expand our understanding of the complexities of law and materiality? And further, can these volumes and interfaces provide points of entry for exploring understudied realms of legal geography such as international law (Jones and Smith, 2015) and “physical and other-than-human worlds” (Delaney, 2016)?

We welcome conceptual, theoretical, and empirically based papers that engage with political and/or legal geography topics that might include (but are not limited to):
Extractive industries: mining, fracking, oil, natural gas, groundwater, spills, leaks
Boundary drawing: national/international boundaries, private property, extraterritorial Infrastructure: dams & levees, docks & ports, Big Bertha tunneling machine

Scientific research: mantle drilling, archeological digs, Kola Superdeep Borehole, Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Private industry: Space X, space elevator, asteroid mining
Civil Society: Autonomous Astronauts, recreational drones, rocketry



Kimberley Peters, Invisible infrastructures: the making and maintaining of multi-spherical motorways for governing maritime mobilities

Eric K. Spears, The Political Ecology of Space and Scale: Public-Private Conflicts on Jekyll Island, Georgia (USA)

Kristen L Shake, Deborah G. Martin, Karen E. Frey, Robin K. Craig. Philip E. Steinberg, (Un)frozen Boundaries: Examining the role of sea ice in the socio legal dynamics of the Bering and Beaufort Seas

Ana Brasil Machado, Regulating urban frontiers: the case of the “ecolimites” policy (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Ignacio Rubio C, Exploring the Gap Between Scientific, Political and Local Accounts of Risk and Uncertainty Related to Water in Mexico City.

Zachary Paul Sugg, Legal implications of the materiality of groundwater.

Laura Matson, Multiple Sovereigns and Transient Resources: Contested Water Jurisdiction and Metallic Mining in the Lake Superior Watershed

Rory Rowan, Cosmic Legal Geographies: Asteroid Mining, NewSpace and the Contested Sovereignty in Extra-planetary Space