Imagining Extractive Archipelagos? Toward a Lived Geopolitics of Deep Seabed Mining

Authors: Jesse Swann-Quinn*, Syracuse University
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Coastal and Marine
Keywords: Deep-sea mining, Critical geopolitics, Extraction, Frontiers, Borders
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has worked for decades to build and refine a resource regime governing deep seabed mining practices. Scholars concerned with this regime increasingly frame such benthic spaces as “frontiers,” part of a broader scholarly interest in extractive resource frontiers. These frontiers often involve the contested reach of capitalist ventures and states, comprising diverse elements: territorial designations, commons enclosures, profit-seeking practices, knowledge generation, and more. Geopolitical imaginations circulating within deep seabed governing bodies prove crucial to these regimes, defining, shaping, and legitimating such frontier spaces (Zalik 2018). At the same time, scholars of critical and popular geopolitics illustrate how such spatial scripts extend beyond state actors, statist imaginations, or capitalist logics, in many ways aligning with findings of other marine geographers who illustrate how ocean spaces are both socially constructed and lively. In this paper I present preliminary considerations for a broader project investigating the “thick” and “lived” geopolitics of benthic extraction – not only as an extractive frontier, but potentially as a network of related bordering practices and scripts extending beyond the exclusive purview of capitalist states and logics. I advance this project by arguing that statements from the most recent (2019) ISA meeting suggest that a range of geopolitical imaginations and stakeholder positions beyond statist and capitalist framings shape the de jure and de facto systems governing deep ocean mineral resources. In doing so I move toward considering deep seabed mining as a new “extractive archipelago” of diverse borders, sovereignties, material practices and spatial imaginations.

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