Ocean frontiers: epistemologies, jurisdictions, commodifications

International Social Science Journal (Chinese Edition)

No.1, 2020


Ocean frontiers: epistemologies, jurisdictions, commodifications (Abstract)


Elizabeth Havice and Anna Zalik


The dynamic and unfolding relationship between the oceans and humans underwrites a general narrative of oceans in ‘crisis’ and the need for new governance and regulatory frameworks to attend to it. As concerns surrounding marine space have proliferated, sovereignty, territory and property in the oceans remain imprecise and subject to controversy, presenting challenges (and opportunities) for oceans governance. This special issue employs the concept of ocean frontiers as a pivot into these concerns because of the eroding, but still frequent, portrayal of the oceans as a planetary space separate from humans and because the concept offers entry points for navigating the unfolding dimensions of ocean conservation and exploitation. Deducing from the eight contributions from the special issue, we develop four inter-related arguments. First, while ocean frontiers pre-date the epistemological, jurisdictional and commodification categories that we conceptualise in this editorial introduction, we find that these categories, which may be understood as intersecting in ocean regimes, play central roles in closing the spatial and socially-constituted ocean frontier, bringing it closer to human purview. Second, the materiality of oceans – their mobile and volumetric elements – influences all of these emerging and intersecting oceanic processes. Third, contributing authors have developed innovative methodological approaches to the study of the oceans, revealing oceans not as “siteless”, but multi-sited, and demonstrating that the social sciences are well suited methodologically to bring unfolding ocean processes into view. Last but not least, drawing from the insights set out by the contributors, we argue for ongoing interdisciplinary social (and natural) science research on the oceans as they and human-ocean relations unfold in a period of dramatic change.