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Accepted Paper:

Social ocean: an ethnographic exploration of hydrosociality, the sea and maritime labour  
Johanna Markkula (Central European University)

Paper short abstract:

By extending theories of hydrosociality from land-based water systems to the sea, this paper uses ethnographic material from international cargo-ships and maritime governing organisations to explore the mutually constitutive relationship between the sea, maritime labour and social relations at sea.

Paper long abstract:

Wittfogel's work on hydraulic societies, and the theories of hydrosociality that emerged from it, have mainly dealt with the governance of land-based water systems. This paper extends these theories to consider the mutually constitutive dynamics of the sea and social relations at sea by focusing on maritime labour and everyday practices of maritime governance.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork aboard internationally trading cargo-ships, and with key maritime governing organisations ashore such as Coast Guards and maritime industry authorities, this paper explores how the "nature" of the sea and the different social representations of it, produce specific forms of social organisations, practices of governance and communities, both ashore and at sea. The sea provides the main surface for circulation of global transport and as such is a key space of global capitalist society. Yet, the vastness and fluidity of the sea, and its legal ambiguity due to it being situated outside of national boundaries and jurisdictions, require specific structures of governance for its management. These structures and forms of social and political organisations and connections in turn shape the global circulation of ships, goods, people and labour at sea, producing the multicultural floating communities of cargo-ship crews, which are themselves reproducing larger, global social inequalities in the local environments onboard. Finally, the paper also explores how the social maritime world is produced through the labour and everyday practices of these maritime workers, and how the sea itself and the seafarers' representations of the sea are shaping social relations onboard.

Keywords: Hydrosociality, maritime labour, seafaring, Philippines, global governance

Panel P047
Water and social relations: Wittfogel's legacy and hydrosocial futures
  Session 1