CfP: Towards a Critical Geography of Ships

CALL FOR PAPERS: AAG 2018, New Orleans

Towards a critical geography of ships

Organizers: Nick Anderman (University of California, Berkeley) and Elizabeth Sibilia (The Graduate Center, The City University of New York)

Discussant: to be announced

 Ships floundering, blocked and struck at sea have made headlines with surprising regularity in the past year. Most recently, non-US flagged ships were controversially prohibited by US law from delivering aid to Puerto Rico for more than a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall, contributing to a steadily worsening humanitarian crisis on the island. This follows fatal collisions between US Naval ships and large commercial vessels in Japanese territorial waters and the South China Sea; a debilitating ransomware attack on the world’s largest container shipping company, A.P. Moller-Maersk; and the mid-2016 bankruptcy of the South Korean container carrier Hanjin, which left the firm’s entire fleet—some 95 ships strewn across the world’s shipping lanes and moored at ports in more than 25 countries––in a state of legal limbo. These events suggest that ships, which for decades have remained largely invisible (Sekula 1995, Sekula and Burch 2010, Hasty and Peters 2012), are increasingly understood to be public matters of concern (Latour 2004, 2008).

A raft of recent scholarship from across the social sciences focuses on ocean-going ships in the context of global logistics and military systems (Chua 2015, Cowen 2014, Danyluk et al. forthcoming), mobility studies (Birtchnell et al. 2015, Hasty and Peters 2012, Peters 2014), and historical geography (Bonner 2016, Hasty 2014). In many of these accounts, ships are taken to be relatively unambiguous objects, with clearly demarcated physical boundaries and straightforward––albeit manifold––cultural meanings. More often than not, they are deployed as signifiers of the reach of globalized capital or as nodes in complex infrastructural assemblages. But just what are ships? What kinds of spaces, knowledge and subjects do they produce and enable, both at sea, on shore, and far inland? How do they shape contemporary life?

Echoing and extending recent calls to put ships at the center of geographic inquiry (Hasty and Peters 2012, Anim-Addo et al 2014), we invite original research, conceptual studies and critical reflections focused on ships. Our starting premise is that there are not immediately obvious­––or uncontestable––meanings for ships. They are always, but never only, political, material, financial, temporal, and conceptual objects, with diffuse and contradictory histories and effects. Contributions may address all kinds of ships and ship-related topics and issues, including shipbreaking, shipbuilding, maritime law, ports and port politics, navigational technologies, the steadily increasing scale of shipping, seafarers, ships in the Black Atlantic, the history and current state of containerization, etc. Critical and speculative work that theorizes ships’ relation(s) to everyday life, broadly construed, is particularly welcome.

We intend to organize 1-2 paper sessions, depending on quantity and quality of submissions, followed by a panel discussion section. To participate, please submit an abstract of 250 words to Nick Anderman ( and Elizabeth Sibilia ( by October 22, 2017.

Anim-Addo, A. (2014) “‘The Great Event of the Fortnight’: Steamship Rhythms and Colonial Communication” Mobilities, 9, 3: 369-383.

Anim-Addo, A., Hasty, W., and Peters, K. (2014) “The Mobilities of Ships and Shipped Mobilities” Mobilities, 9, 3: 337-349.

Birtchnell, T., S. Savitzky and J. Urry (2015) ‘Moving cargos’, in Birtchnell, T., S. Savitzky and J. Urry (eds) Cargomobilities: Moving materials in a global age, New York and London: Routledge.

Bonner, R. (2016) “The Salt Water Civil War: Thalassological Approaches, Ocean-Centered Opportunities” The Journal of the Civil War Era, 6, 2: 243-267.

Chua, C. (2015-) ‘The Disorder of Things’ WWW URL (accessed 10.7.2017).

Danyluk, M., Chua, C., Cowen, D., and Khalili, L. (forthcoming) “Introduction. Turbulent Circulation: Towards a Critical Logistics Studies,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.

Hasty, W. (2014) “Metamorphosis Afloat: Pirate Ships, Politics and Process, c.1680–1730” Mobilities, 9, 3: 350-468.

Hasty, W. and Peters, K. (2012) “The Ship in Geography and the Geographies of Ships” Geography Compass, 6, 11: 660–676.

Latour, B. (2004) “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern” Critical Inquiry 30: 225-248.

Latour, B. (2008) What is the Style of Matters of Concern?, Assen: Van Gorcum.

Peters, K. (2014), “Tracking (Im)mobilities at Sea: Ships, Boats and Surveillance Strategies” Mobilities, 9, 3: 414-431.

Sekula, A. (1995) Fish Story, Rotterdam and Düsseldorf: Richter Verlag.

Sekula, A. and N. Burch (2010) The Forgotten Space, directed by Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, Doc.Eye Film, WILDart FILM and Icarus Films, 2010, DVD.