Political Geometry in the Pacific Ocean. IGU BEJ 2016.

2016 Sammler, K. Territory, Sovereignty and Political Geometry in the Pacific Ocean. International Geographical Union, Beijing, China, 21–25 Aug.


TITLE: Territory, Sovereignty and Political Geometry in the Pacific Ocean

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 geopoilitical 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.

TRAVEL GRANT(S): AAG-NSF junior scholar travel grant $2,000.