Legal Geopolitics of the Ocean

Legal Geopolitics of the Ocean
Mat Coleman (Geography) and Kendra McSweeney (Geography)

Although the ocean is frequently understood as a legal wilderness where state authority comes undone, our programming will explore how states territorialize oceans as quasi-legal jurisdictions by exporting military, regulatory, logistics, customs, immigration, and law enforcement operations offshore, and by building extraterritorial maritime infrastructures such as islands, platforms, and naval bases.

Spring 2024

February 12, 2024 at 10:00am (Virtual Event)
Kimberely Peters and Phil Steinberg: 10 Myths of Critical Ocean Geography

Remote video URL


The time has passed for geographers to deride their discipline as terracentric. For decades now, geographers from a range of subdisciplinary perspectives have been turning to the ocean (and other non-solid spaces) to develop alternative modes of understanding, and as they do so they draw on and contribute to parallel trends occurring in other disciplines. And yet the strategies adopted in what some have called an ‘oceanic turn’ all too often reproduce the very epistemologies and ontologies that the turn to the ocean had sought to undermine. In this paper, we dive deep and identify 10 myths that are prevalent in much of the critical ocean geography literature. Like most myths, these myths are not objectively ‘wrong’; in many instances, in fact, they provocatively suggest truths that are less clear when viewing things ‘from the land’. However, in their simplified explanations, and in the narratives that emerge around those explanations, these myths of critical ocean geography typically foreclose other ways of thinking that might go further in realising the ocean’s potential as a means for destabilising critical thought.


Portrait of Kim Peters

Kimberley Peters is a human geographer focused on the social, cultural, and political dynamics of maritime spaces. Her 15-year research journey covers power dynamics and governance in marine environments, examining topics like pirate radio ships and deep-sea mining. She has authored eight books including "The Routledge Handbook of Ocean Space" and "Water Worlds: Human Geographies of the Ocean," contributing significantly to the field of geography.


Portrait of Phil Steinberg

Phil Steinberg is the UArctic Chair in Political Geography at Durham University and previously taught at Florida State University and various other institutions. His research examines the projection of social power onto spaces like the world-ocean, the internet, and the Arctic, focusing on aspects from cartography to governance. Steinberg's work encompasses a broad range of subjects including international law and the lifestyles of individuals within these expanses, drawing on his PhD from Clark University.


Fall 2023

November 16, 2023 at 10:00am (Virtual Event)
Laleh Khalili: The Corporeal Life of Seafaring

Remote video URL


The body of the seafarer is a fulcrum upon which global systems of power, longstanding maritime traditions, and gendered and racialised pressures all rest. In this essay, I draw on my ongoing research and experiences of travelling on cargo ships to explore the embodied life of these labourers. I investigate an experience riddled with adversities – loneliness, loss, and violence, stolen wages and exploitative shipowners – as well as ephemeral moments of joy and solidarity. In the unique arena of the ship, I trace the many forms of corporeality involved in work at sea and the ways the body is engaged by the institutions that engulf seafarers’ lives and work.

Laleh Khalili pursued a PhD in politics after earning an engineering degree and working as a management consultant in the US. Her research interests include transnational movements, power dynamics, resistance, and the impacts of colonialism, always incorporating themes of gender, race, and political economy. She has authored and contributed to numerous publications, including "Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine," "Time in the Shadows," and "Sinews of War and Trade," with ongoing projects on seafaring and the implications of oil and hydrocarbons post-nationalisation.