Seasteading, Contested Sovereignties, and Oceanic Materialities in French Polynesia

Authors: Elizabeth Bennett*,
Topics: Pacific Islands, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: Seasteading, Sovereignty, French Polynesia, Tahiti
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 46
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper will discuss a failed development project that sought to remake and redefine the materiality of the ocean through the creation of a semi-autonomous political and economic entity consisting of modular floating islands. The project, called the Floating Islands Project, would have been located off the coast of Mateia, Tahiti, French Polynesia. The Floating Islands Project and the act of seasteading itself are predicated upon understanding the ocean as an inert, non-agentive, and autonomy-granting surface that, with certain interventions, has potential for permanent habitation. The seasteading settlers wished to transform the wet, dynamic ocean surface by mobilizing decentralized money (cryptocurrency) and building novel forms of habitation. I posit that the organizers and supporters of the Floating Islands Project sought to undermine the human and non-human actants, their politicized relationships, and sovereignties in favor of the seasteaders’ and agentive potential by fundamentally altering the ways to which they relate to the ocean itself. French Polynesia is a place already characterized by a multiplicity of contested sovereignties (Kahn 2011, Saura 2015 & 2011, Tremon 2006, Bambridge 2012) and conceptions of the ocean’s materiality.

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