Wet Ontologies

surfAlthough there was very little work on the human geography of the ocean when I began working on the topic in the mid-1990s, 15 years later a significant number of scholars were exploring the geography of the ocean: its mobility, its depth, its voluminous materiality, its political status (mostly) outside sovereign territory, its economic function that is is so crucial to state power, its historic and ongoing role in nurturing dreams for expanding authority to distant lands or for imagining alternative futures.

Noting this advance in the discipline, in 2012 Kimberley Peters and I began discussing how we could take the human geography of the ocean to another level: using the ocean’s materiality to think through not just the geography of the ocean (as a bounded socio-natural space) but, more broadly, to inform a new perspective on the world writ large. As Kim began thinking through these questions through her perspective rooted in cultural geography, mobility studies, and the phenomenology and materiality of maritime navigation, I began to think through related questions with specific reference to the writings of Carl Schmitt (see my chapter in Spatiality Sovereignty, and Carl Schmitt: Geographies of the Nomos (2011)) and the concept of the ocean region (see my 2013 article ‘Of other seas: metaphors and materialities in maritime regions‘ in Atlantic Studies). My contributions to the project also draw on my earlier work on the ways in which the ocean seeps into our imagination through maps, filmutopian visions, and environmentalist discourses, as well as my ongoing projects on sea ice mapping and the links between Arctic materialities and polar politics.

Thus emerged our ‘Wet Ontologies’ project, which date has resulted in two articles, an autobiographical online photo-essay, and a closely related book.

  • Volume and vision: toward a wet ontology (with Kimberley Peters, in Harvard Design Magazine, 2014) | Website
  • Wet ontologies, fluid spaces: giving depth to volume through oceanic thinking (with Kimberley Peters, in Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, 2015) | PDF (behind paywall)
  • A wet world: rethinking place, territory, and time (with Kimberley Peters, Society & Space open site, 2015) | Open Access Website
  • Territory beyond Terra (edited with Kimberley Peters and Elaine Stratford, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018) | Website

A further publication should be coming out in Dialogues in Human Geography in 2019.

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