Accepted paper:

MSV Heterotopia? Life on a wooden cargo vessel in the Indian Ocean


Edward Simpson (SOAS)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the idea of heterotopia through the lives and works of contemporary seafarers in the Indian Ocean.

Paper long abstract:

The Mechanised Sailing Vessel (MSV) is a wooden cargo ship registered with the Indian State. An MSV motors into port in Northern Somalia. Cargo from Dubai: metal and plastic trinkets from China, used Japanese cars, pasta and hose pipes. On the return leg, the ship loads goats, three decks deep: kebabs on the hoof. And so on, back and forth, throughout the sailing season before returning to India with empty holds for a rest. In this paper, I draw on my own research as well as the auto-ethnographic works of sailors with camcorders and cell phones. Through their lenses we see what has only been imagined by most of those who have written about the Indian Ocean: what happens when the ship leaves the shore? We see that passages of the MSV are in the gaps of today, not in the rot of a maritime tradition. MSVs routinely pass between nations, languages and through competing types of authority and regulation. MSVs go where no one else does, can, or 'should' - they float because of pirates and war and sanctions. On deck, however, everything is strangely familiar and routine. Sailors eat, sleep and work for months at a stretch. They fish, pray, watch films and talk to their friends. Things seem heterotopic, but are they? Did Foucault ever go to sea? What else can be said of the tensions between land and sea that the passages of the MSV highlight?

panel P23
Humanity at sea: hybridity and seafaring