Assembling Benthic Power 2

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Coastal and Marine Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM (Eastern Standard Time)
Room: Truman, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Organizers: Jesse Swann-Quinn, Katherine Sammler
Chairs: Jesse Swann-Quinn


The rich yet unfamiliar benthic world, named for the Greek benthos or 'depth of the sea,' is increasingly shaped by human practices, politics, and technologies. Ocean ecologists refer to these complex ecological communities that emerge on both natural and artificial sea floor habitats as 'benthic assemblages' (Bolam et al., 2017; Megina et al., 2016). Among many other physical elements these ecosystems comprise mineral-rich hydrothermal vents, extreme pressure and darkness, and species yet unknown to science. Meanwhile, a diverse range of social scientists demonstrate that 'offshore' human activities similarly provide new arrangements of geopolitical, economic, and ecological relationships. Yet scholars often define these socio-material assemblages as existing only offshore. We tend to view these spaces as either removed from 'the mainland,' peripheral land at or above sea level, or as part of a general volume of 'the sea' or 'the ocean' (for exceptions, see: Elden, 2013; Sammler, 2017; Squire, 2018; Steinberg & Peters, 2015). Rarely do we consider these specific territories and spaces extending to earth below even our deepest waters, comprising complex spaces of intersecting volumes and planes: the benthic world located at the bottom of the sea.

Such concerns are increasingly necessary as humanity progressively enrolls the diverse materialities of the sea floor – long a 'frontier' of many sorts – within our political assemblages (Barry, 2001; Braun, 2006; Dittmer, 2014; Ong & Collier, 2004; Robbins & Marks, 2010). These formations generate particularly perplexing problems as the benthic world still most often remains distant and invisible, located in waters both legally and physically murky, and profoundly unknown compared to other global surfaces or more accessible habitats located higher in the water column. However, new technologies, emerging infrastructures, and shifting geopolitical events transform these geographies of centrality, proximity, and distance, increasingly drawing ocean depths metaphorically closer to shore.

This session draws together scholarship which contributes to a greater understanding of the diverse set of social and material relationships that produce these deep-water assemblages, what we might call an emerging field of 'benthic power.'


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Elaine Stratford*, University of Tasmania, Geographies of the Drowned 20 9:55 AM
Presenter Charles Travis*, University of Texas - Arlington, Poul Holm, Trinity College, The University of Dublin, Francis Ludlow, Trinity College Dublin, Kevin Lougheed, King's College London, Inventing the Grand Banks: Humanities GIS, and Cartesian Perceptions of North-West Atlantic Fisheries ca 1504-ca 1831 20 10:15 AM
Presenter Craig Young*, , The dead body, burial at sea and benthic power 20 10:35 AM
Presenter Nick Lewis*, University Of Auckland, Geographical rents and blue economy experiments 20 10:55 AM
Discussant Jessica Lehman University of Minnesota - Minneapolis 20 11:15 AM

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