DPDF Student Fellowship Competition > DPDF Student Fellowship Competition 2014

Oceanic Studies: Seas as Sites and Subjects of Interdisciplinary Inquiry

Open only to doctoral students based at universities within the U.S.

Workshop dates:
Spring- June 4-8, 2014 in Berkeley, California
Fall- September 17-21, 2014 in Arlington, Virginia

Treating the sea as the site and subject of investigation and theorization, Oceanic Studies promote the intersection of humanistic, scientific and social scientific inquiry. The ocean and the oceanic are of renewed importance in an era marked by global warming-induced sea level rise, seabed and aquatic disturbance spurred by the search for energy, the expansion of maritime traffic and trafficking, new maritime legal regimes, and the explosion of ocean-based scientific discoveries. Life of and on the sea is a growing feature of the late-modern condition and imaginary the world over, with the off-shore -- from storms, to spills, organisms, financial practices, and infrastructures -- gaining reach and consequence.

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Field Directors

Brenda Chalfin
Associate Professor, University of Florida, Anthropology [ bio ]
Brenda Chalfin is Professor of Anthropology and a Faculty Affiliate at the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Florida. Her research interests are in economic, political, and maritime anthropology, with a focus on Ghana and West Africa. Her most recent book is Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa (University of Chicago 2010). She is currently researching and writing two new books, one on maritime sovereignty and governance, and another on infrastructure in developing urban areas. She has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Chalfin has received research funding from the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and others. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania.
Gaurav Desai
Professor, Tulane University, English and African and African Diaspora Studies [ bio ]
Gaurav Desai is Professor of English with a joint appointment in the Program in African and African Diaspora Studies at Tulane University. His most recent book, Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India and the Afrasian Imagination (Columbia University 2013), examines narratives of Indian Ocean connections between Africa and India. He also edited The Virtual Transformation of the Public Sphere (Routledge 2013) and Teaching the African Novel (MLA 2009), and co-edited Postcolonialisms: An Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism (Rutgers University 2005), among other volumes. He has been a visiting fellow at the Center for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at Cambridge University, the National Humanities Center, and the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. In 2004, he was named a Life Member of Clare Hall, Cambridge University. He received his PhD in English from Duke University.

Recipients

Tania Bhattacharyya
Columbia University, History
Learning the Sea: Bombay as an Indian Ocean city, 1839-1932
[ project summary ]
How far can we write the history of littoral societies without writing about the sea? This study of Bombay between 1839 and1932- when the city was the administrative centre of British imperial interests in Aden and Zanzibar- focuses on the Indian Ocean as a space both historically and analytically relevant to the history of Mumbai. It studies the impact that the British political intervention in the Indian Ocean had on pre-existing networks of mobility and modes of exchange, both cultural and economic, and its implications for the social and cultural life of Bombay. In doing so it places Bombay, Aden and Zanzibar in a common historical conversation. On the other hand, it studies the shaping of Bombay as a port-city through the contributions and interactions of the diverse communities that resided there or passed through it, in the period under consideration.
Brad Dubik
Duke University, Marine Science and Conservation
Comprehending the Blue Revolution: Shrimp Aquaculture and Human Relationships with the Ocean
[ project summary ]
Shrimp aquaculture has rapidly grown to dwarf wild capture, in terms of production, leading to many social and environmental changes throughout the world. Discourses and policies have emerged seeking to ensure the sustainability of the industry. And curtail its negative effects. This research seeks critically examine the push for "sustainable" shrimp aquaculture by seeking a more complex understanding of how the rise of aquaculture has changed shrimp producers' fundamental relationships with the social and biophysical world at the interface of ocean and terrestrial systems. To answer these questions, the proposed dissertation will focus on field sites in Aceh, Indonesia to understand how the expansion of shrimp aquaculture has changed economic and social relationships among people and ocean systems, and what implications these changing relationships have for both local livelihoods and policy responses.
Penelope K Hardy
Johns Hopkins University, History of Science and Technology
Where Science Meets the Sea: Research Vessels and the Production of Knowledge in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
[ project summary ]
This project focuses on the role of the research vessel as the fundamental technology in the conduct and development of marine sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Since scientific knowledge of the oceans cannot be acquired without the intervention of technology, that technology necessarily becomes embedded in the knowledge produced, and vice versa. This study will thus focus on the technology of marine investigation by examining a series of ships from the United States, England, Monaco, and Germany, all built or extensively converted for the purpose of pursuing marine investigations in situ from the mid-nineteenth through the end of the twentieth centuries. The broad chronological and geographical frame will provide a comparative canvas on which to examine historical questions surrounding shifting models of patronage, authority, and hierarchy; fluid disciplinary boundaries; and the interplay of culture, class, and gender at the overlap of the scientific and maritime environments.
Nathan Jessee
Temple University, Anthropology
An Encroaching Gulf: Cultural Friction and Narratives of Sea Level Rise and Wetland Erosion from Louisiana
[ project summary ]
Louisiana’s coastal communities face increasingly severe storms, wetland erosion, and the highest rates of sea level rise on Earth. These challenges have attracted global media focused on climate change. Despite the increasing attention to lived experiences of climate change, many Americans continue to deny its existence and hazards. This research explores the cultural friction surrounding indigenous narratives of the encroaching Gulf of Mexico as media producers and consumers who make up the cultural nodes of a news cycle transform them. I employ participant observation, ethnographic interviews, and media reception analyses with coastal residents, journalists, and targeted audiences to better understand how differently positioned groups interpret and respond to environmental stories from Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. This project aims to support community-based strategic communication from the frontlines of climate change and better understand how the rising Gulf of Mexico is rendered across social differences.
Ben Mendelsohn
New York University, Media, Culture and Communication
Manmade Land: Coastal Reclamation as Anthropocene Archive
[ project summary ]
The human transformation of the earth is so pronounced that the International Commission on Stratigraphy is studying a reclassification of our present geologic epoch as the Anthropocene, the age of man (Zalasiewicz et al., 2011). One feature of the Anthropocene -- human earthmoving -- forms the basis of this project. I am conducting a comparative study of three coastal zones with high vulnerability to sea level rise, dense agglomerations of population and industry, and dramatic processes of coastal land reclamation: the Mississippi River Delta, the Yangtze River Delta, and Mumbai. Departing from recent work in environmental media studies that draws a hard line between land and water, I treat these sites as "porous places" (Mandelman, 2014) that mediate between land and sea, continent and coast, waste and resource, state and subject, past and future. In each site, I examine the land-water interface as an archive of human and planetary history.
Frances Victoria Molyneux
Stanford University, English
Sails among the Steam: Representations of the Age of Sail in Modernity
[ project summary ]
The importance of new technologies to the culture and literature of the modern world is a topic which continues to stoke considerable critical interest. The predominant focus on technologies such as the railway, cinema, and the phonograph, however, exposes the fact that this attention is overwhelmingly land-based. My project seeks to shift the focal point from land to sea by examining the social and cultural repercussions of the end of the age of sail. During the nineteenth century the steamship became the predominant sailing technology; nevertheless, the after-echo of the age of sail remained within the cultural imaginary and is particularly evident in the literature of the early twentieth century. My work examines the effect that the epochal shift from sail to steam had on different communities on and beside bodies of water, particularly as reflected in the writing of authors who were themselves members of these communities.
Alberto E. Morales
University of California, Irvine, Anthropology
The Work of Marine Bioprospecting in Panama
[ project summary ]
Panama exemplifies a global trend where ocean ecologies are now the targets for biodiversity prospecting, the extraction of naturally occurring molecules to produce new pharmaceuticals. My dissertation research will focus on the "behind the scenes," pre-market, scientific and political-economic processes of marine biodiversity prospecting. My project will elaborate on the ways new technologies and international relations both construct and complicate the cultural landscapes and biophysical spaces of marine bioprospecting in Panama. In this postcolonial environment, marine bioprospecting involves scientific ventures mediated through international agreements, like the International Cooperation on Biodiversity Group, as well as nascent, South-South links that map onto new global economic formations across continents. In this project, I examine marine bioprospecting vis-a-vis Panama's restructuring state, emerging international political economic processes, shifting notions of biodiversity, and pressing health concerns with infectious diseases. To do this research, I will conduct participant observational fieldwork in key scientific institutions in Panama and in the Coiba Islands National Park.
Hayley R. Rucker
University of California, Berkeley, History
Spaces of the Voyage: Community and Cultural Exchange aboard Ship in French Oceanic Journeys, 1600-1789
[ project summary ]
In my dissertation, I examine the ship and the ocean as spaces of cultural experimentation and exchange in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French oceanic voyages. I question how these spaces of the oceanic voyage may have required people aboard ship to re-imagine the boundaries of community in ways distinct from those in metropole or colony. Remaining attentive to the diversity of religions, experiences, statuses and even species aboard ship, I trace changing conceptions of religion, gender, social rank, and the place of humans in the natural order. My research builds primarily on scholarship of the Atlantic world, illuminating the central place of the ship in processes of cultural exchange. However, the spaces of the ocean voyage also present alternative perspectives on conventional interpretations of early modern European culture.
Katherine Genevieve Sammler
University of Arizona, Geography
Environmental Governance of the Deep: Pacific Seabed Mining.
[ project summary ]
Within the last few years economic motivations and technological advancements have articulated sufficiently to make seabed resource extraction a realistic possibility. As nations' territorial claims have expanded farther into the ocean, a new space for exploitation, extraction and accumulation is emerging. The desire to develop ocean space has manifested in new jurisdictions such as the Exclusive Economic Zone, the governance of which is still inchoate, even as seabed mining development moves forward in New Zealand and other Pacific Island nations. This institutional emergence, combined with experimental deep seabed mining technology, produces a highly contested space concerning ecosystem health and coastal livelihoods. The proposed research confronts a significant gap in critical scholarship by addressing evolving relationships between state power, scientific authority, and commodification of nature in Pacific maritime territories, topics previously explored largely through land-based practices. Exploratory research is necessary to inventory archival sources, and establish interview contacts in New Zealand.
Joshua Savala
Cornell University, History
Class and Nation Across a Shifting Border: The Chilean and Peruvian Maritime World, 1850s-1920s
[ project summary ]
This project is a social history of the working class maritime world off the coasts of Peru and Chile from the 1850s to the 1920s. It seeks to trace the transnational development of maritime relationships between two countries typically thought of as in constant conflict. While transnational, the project is carefully linked to the particularities of place. By thinking with maritime workers from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, the project de-centers the War of the Pacific (1879-1884) and the antagonisms it carries along, and moves towards the numerous forms of interaction—at sea and at port—between working class Chileans and Peruvians. In place of land-based nationalist narratives, I propose the idea of a maritime alliance of workers that, while indelibly marked by nationalism, sought to create new forms of sociability based on maritime conceptions of class that exceeded the bounds of the nation.
Donald Underwood
University of Florida, Anthropology
Sea Trials: Maritime Space and Security in the Gulf of Guinea
[ project summary ]
Ghana's maritime territory has been increasingly portrayed as a space of risk and insecurity in the context of multiplying maritime activities, including offshore oil and gas production, international oceanic trade, and piracy. This investigation of Ghana's offshore domain will center on the following concerns: 1) How has Ghana's maritime space become socially constructed as a space of threat and insecurity following the discovery of offshore oil and gas deposits? 2) What forms of political analysis, moral reflection, and techno-scientific practices are mobilized by scientists, policy-makers and planners to identify, analyze and manage risks in the Gulf of Guinea? 3) What forms of collaboration, resistance, and reworking of practices and protocols have emerged from the multi-modal generation of risk and security in Ghana's ocean space? This project will contribute to interdisciplinary research in the social construction of the world's oceans by highlighting the emerging logic of security currently organizing ocean governance.
Lisa Vandenbossche
University of Rochester, English
Rhetoric of the Ocean: Sailors and Reform in the Atlantic Eighteenth Century
[ project summary ]
For centuries, land and land ownership played a central role in defining legal rights in Britain and its colonies – and in defining to whom those rights would extend. Yet maritime industries created alternatives to traditional legal categorization; for the men venturing out to sea, and often for the women left behind, old hierarchies built on land could be reconsidered. My research seeks to understand how the ocean – a space that was literally outside the law of the land – challenged not only the centrality of land to traditional conceptualizations of labor and property, but also the very concept of a land-based nation-state, a land-based politics. In the project that results, I hope to argue that eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature and legal documents contributed to a larger discourse surrounding the sailor, and his landless labor, and that these influenced shore-based reform movements centered on overturning class- and gender-based hierarchies.