Current Institutional Affiliation
Postdoctoral Fellow, Anthropology, University of Oslo

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Stanford University
Navigators of the Social Ocean: Filipino Seafarers and Coastguards in the Global Maritime World

This anthropological study of the sea as a social and political space will be based on ethnographic fieldwork with Filipino merchant seafarers, coastguards in the Philippines, and the key institutions that make up the maritime world. It takes as its starting point the paradox that although the sea covers ¾ of the planet and is of great importance to human society as a space of transport, a source of livelihood, not to mention as an ecological resource; the sea has not been given much attention in anthropology, a discipline which concerns itself with humankind in all its diversity. How do humans manage this enormous and enormously important space? Through what practices and processes? In studying Filipino seafarers and coastguards, I focus on two recent transformations in how humans manage and make use of the sea: globalization and global governance. First, global maritime transport is key to globalization, with 90 percent of all goods traded internationally being transported by sea. Filipino seafarers are a rather recent group in international shipping and as such, they provide a window for understanding the nature of the contemporary maritime industry and globalization. Second, new technologies for extracting minerals, oil, and gas from the ocean floor have led to attempts to territorialize and appropriate ocean spaces raising issues of global governance, territoriality and sovereignty. The South China Sea is possibly the most important such maritime territorial conflict today. A study of the Philippine Coast Guard and its strategies, practices and challenges for negotiating this space can tell us how the frontlines of nation-states are navigated in the "real world". Both seafarers and coastguards provide strategic lenses for studying how abstract processes such as globalization and global governance, and negotiations of sovereignty, exist in the concrete, yet fluid ocean space, and are carried out by maritime workers: Navigators of the Social Ocean.