Anthropology of the Sea(s)


Seas and Oceans are at the center of a renewed and urgent multidisciplinary interest. A process of «re-enchantment» of the Ocean, viewed as a catalyst for responding to the challenges of the Anthropocene, is underway. Recently, international policymakers navigating the «blue turn» are co-constructing, along with scientists and the mainstream media, an image of an «endangered ocean», which serves, on the one hand, as a scientific laboratory in which to produce knowledge for fighting climate change, and, on the other, as a reservoir from which to extract value, such as fish, minerals, genomes, etc. The sea has always been a vehicle of transformation in a capitalist economy: a (un)common and radical space where the great challenges for global hegemony take place. In this renewed academic scenario historically dominated by «hard sciences», anthropology can give a substantial contribution to the analysis of global political-economic issues. Seas and oceans are ideal frameworks to observe processes of uncertainty, resistance, and unexpected imaginative drives, due to their intrinsic capacity to generate counter-narratives and trigger alternative thinking. It is thus a fertile context for re-centralizing the positioning of an «anthropology of the sea(s)».

In this network, we propose a renovated perspective to look at the sea in order to deconstruct essentialized model emerging from oceanic studies that assume the sea and the ocean as the catalyzing centers of the environmentalist turn. This new awareness has the merit of having focused attention on marginal spaces and communities and on contemporary global processes of exploitation, conservation, and protection of environmental resources. However, the anthropology of the seas is called on to emphasize the multiple materialities of the sea and its performative agency capable of generating others’ worldviews and subjectivities. Anthropology of the sea(s) network must assume in its analysis a «from the sea» approach that includes transversally imaginaries, discourses, and practices generated by the interaction with the salty water milieux as well as the embedded experiences of being at sea of social actors and researchers.

Anthropology of the sea(s) is a key resource to grapple how sea materialities shape practices and imaginaries of the «life at sea» of a wide and heterogeneous range of people and communities, such as sea workers, fishermen and seafarers, conservationists and natural scientists, along with navigators. Giving relevance to the role of extensive ethnographic fieldwork, anthropology of the sea(s) allows the theoretically powerful expressions propelled by the oceanic turn literature to take shape.


At the EASA 2022, the panel — Navigating the sea: a (un)common space of transformations and horizon for hopeful futures — has been an occasion to start a conversation entirely dedicated to the sea. The discussion prompted us to think about a network on maritime issues. The EASA anthropology of the sea(s) network is the ideal means to bring forward interesting connections, collaborations, and theoretical exchanges between scholars with different fieldwork experiences, but deeply embedded in coastal, marine and maritime issues. Encouraging also ship ethnography, this network aims to look at this field “from” a sea perspective, thinking “with” the sea; taking into account its materialities. A sea-based gaze allows us to question hegemonic dichotomies such as land/sea, mobility/stability, common/enclosures, order/disorder. The aim is to consider a dynamic reflection on maritime contexts, understood as actors in global economic, social and political processes, and to develop new thinking on the anthropological value of the sea as an analytical framework.

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