“Because the sea is rising we will rise” - Transnational agency and mediated resistance in sea-bound civil society organisations


The planetary ocean has become an ever-more important site of conflict, politics and power in recent years. Contemporary tensions at sea include not only the struggle over fishing rights after Brexit and migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean Sea, but also countless environmental issues such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, marine pollution and the fight over the deep seabed for the extraction of precious metals. Thus, at the beginning of the UN’s Ocean Decade, from 2021 to 2030, the sea has become a key frontier of transnational politics.
More than a contentious, political issue, sea-bound struggles also raise important theoretical and conceptual questions for social and political scientists. With the global economy inherently dependent on the sea for the transportation of goods via containerships (Campling and Colás, 2021) and data via a vast network of undersea cables (Starosielski, 2015), researchers have turned to the sea to revisit key political theories. Arguing that modern thought holds a land-based bias, scholars raised conceptual questions about the meaning of territory (Peters et al., 2018), national sovereignty (Hung and Lien, 2022), public sphere (Lester, 2016) and citizenship (Damjanov and Crouch, 2011). Contributing to this emerging ‘oceanic turn’ in the social and political sciences (Brown and Peters, 2019, p.1), this project’s aim is to shed light on a largely under-investigated phenomenon: sea-bound civil society organisations.
Scholars of transnational civil society and mediated resistance have already been exploring what it means to act beyond the borders of nation-states in the context of globalisation and the advent of digital media technologies since the turn of the century (della Porta and Tarrow, 2005; Castells, 2012). However, while respective scholarship produced important knowledges of how civil society acts across national borders, significantly less is known about what it means to act outside of nation-state territory. Here, in the transnational territory of the sea – defined since Grotius’ 1609 idea of the free sea (mare liberum) by legal complexities and zonal governance – the land-based logic of inter-national politics reaches its conceptual limits.
This project thus asks what it means for European civil society to act in the transnational space of the sea, investigating three research questions: (1) what are the particular challenges of acting politically in ocean space; 2) what role do (digital) media technologies play here; and 3) what can sea-bound civil society tell us about the limits of territory-bound politics and the possibilities for transnational agency? The project investigates these questions by analysing six organisations active in the Mediterranean Sea (civil sea rescue organisations) and the European Atlantic (sea-bound environmental organisations) with three qualitative methods (textual analysis of organisational media, participant observation at key actions and semi-structured interviews).

Additional Informationsunspecified
Commencement Date1 September 2022
Contributors Scharenberg, Dr. Antje (Project Manager)
Datestamp 01 Sep 2022 13:16
Completion Date 31 August 2024
Publications Scharenberg, Antje: Ocean activism: towards an oceanic turn in the study of transnational social movements. 2022. - EISA 15th Pan-European Conference on International Relations. - Panteion University Athens.
Scharenberg, Antje: Contentious infrastructures: considering maritime governance from the perspective of sea-bound civil society. 2022. - Ocean Infrastructures. - University of Copenhagen.
Keywords transnational agency, transnational media, ocean politics, civil society, sea rescue, environmental politics
Funders HSG – Grundlagenforschungsfonds (GFF)
Id 248187
Project Status ongoing
Project Type fundamental research project
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