Encrypted geographies: Urban utopias for a ‘post-political’ era

Authors: Isabelle Simpson*, McGill University
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: seasteading, utopia, encryption, post-political, urban geography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Seasteading is the concept of creating permanent dwellings at sea, called seasteads, outside the territory claimed by any government. These artificial island nations could host individuals and corporations beyond national borders and any official jurisdiction, while maintaining, if not improving, their connection to the global economy. Seasteading is part of a larger movement advocating the creation of ‘startup societies’ defined as “small territorial experiment[s] in government” such as “smart cities, special economic zones, eco-villages, micro states, intentional communities, and seasteading” (www.startupsocieties.com).Their goal is to disrupt the status quo of the nation-state.

Seasteading and startup societies have received little academic attention to date. Scholars have looked at the contradiction between the desire to territorialize and deterritorialize (Steinberg, 2012), discussed the political and technological challenges faced by seasteading (Binder, 2016; Marris 2017), and identified seasteading as a manifestation of post-crisis neoliberalism (Lynch, 2017). Building on previous work on seasteading and fieldwork in seasteading-related events, this paper introduces the concept of encrypted urban geographies: urban spaces that exploit legal loopholes, built around disruptive, transgressive, and decentralized technologies (blockchain, cryptocurrencies, smart contracts, private technological, legal, and infrastructural networks), and to which access is restricted through ideological encryption. I argue that seasteads are ideologically encrypted ‘non-places’, utopias that are simultaneously connected to and disconnected from the global political economy, and designed for and marketed to the commodified citizens of a post-political urbanism.

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