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Decolonizing or closing maritime frontiers: Resistance and reappropriation in the Pacific Ocean


Pierre-Yves Le Meur, Estienne Rodary

Session presentation

Over the last decades, the Pacific Ocean has been the locus of an unequaled rush for resources and territories, involving external powers, intertwined public and corporate interests, and the Pacific Island states. This rush is made of three movements aiming to: (1) exploit marine resources; (2) protect marine biodiversity and adapt to climate change; (3) control marine spaces. In this context, the fluidity of saltwater environments gives rise to specific issues of control and enforcement. As a continuation of sessions held at the ESfO 2017 and ASAO 2018 conferences, this panel will examine these reconfigurations of/in the Pacific Ocean, stressing potentially conflicting frontier processes. Frontiers are here conceived as moving and porous lines and as complex historical processes of externally-induced social change, capitalist expansion, and transformation of nature into resources. This panel will examine whether frontier dynamics are coming to an end in the Pacific Ocean, while giving voice to “the other side of the frontier” (Reynolds). It will welcome papers focusing on Pacific nations’ resistance and reappropriation in the face of past and present frontier dynamics.

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

The other side of the maritime frontier in the Pacific

Pierre-Yves Le Meur (IRD - Institut de Recherche pour le Développement)

The notion of “internal” or “interstitial frontier” introduced by Kopytoff (1987) and later revisited and expanded by Chauveau et al. (2004) accounts for the ideological and normative construction of frontiers as institutionally empty spaces, available for settlement and grabbing. This view complements Turner’s concept of “tidal frontier” applied to the US colonization history (1893) and Reynolds’ work on the “other side” of this frontier with regards to the Australian colonization history (1981). These perspectives have later been heuristically used to analyze postcolonial and development contexts. The concept of “frontier” has also been increasingly used in relation with contemporary resource control and conservation issues (e.g., World Development 101, 2018) and applied to the understanding of similar processes occurring in the three-dimensional liquid oceanic world (Steinberg and Peters, 2015; Hannigan, 2016). This introduction will consider the notion of frontier at large, then explore the potentially conflicting frontier dynamics that are occurring in, and reshaping, the Pacific Ocean. We will analyze the (dis)articulations between these frontier dynamics and grabbing/commoning processes and open a discussion on the different forms of resistance and re-appropriation deployed by various actors including the Pacific large ocean island states in this fluid context.

The evolution of a governance architecture for an Ocean Continent

Genevieve QUIRK (University of Wollongong)

In 2017, at the inaugural UN Ocean Conference, together, the PICs launched the ‘Blue Pacific Continent’ concept that reframes PICs as collective stewards over the world’s largest ocean continent. This paper traces the development of the contemporary system of oceans governance from 1947 to 2017 to substantiate claims of regional governance over an ocean continent. An ocean continent is a concept that transcends areas within national jurisdiction (AWNJ) and extends collective stewardship of marine resources to areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). This paper demonstrates how regional responses to accelerating external threats to their oceanscape have driven collective ocean stewardship since before the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

In Oceania, regional oceans governance organisations have evolved to an advanced system of collective governance. Commencing as distinct entities, areas of overlap in the mandate of these elemental regional organisations, compelled their co-evolution through stages of competition and specialization. The final stage of integration between these organizations is characterized by an architecture for collaboration, coordination and collective diplomacy. Spatially the scope of the common and increasingly dense system of oceans governance instruments that compose the governance architecture encompass AWNJ and extend to ABNJ to distinguish the region as one Ocean continent.

Seasteads, Foreshores, and Proliferating Frontiers

Alexander Mawyer (University of Hawai'i-Manoa)

With attention to how the land-sea non-duality in Pacific Islands cultural contexts is sometimes articulated and strategically deployed in conservation and environmental management literatures, this paper engages with the beach as boundary, threshold, and as a sort of frontier in French Polynesia recently sited for a proliferation of seasteads and manmade floating islands capable of meeting hyperwealthy American libertarians’ dreams of escape over the horizon of US sovereignty and governance. Notwithstanding anthropology’s close engagement with Greg Dening’s efficacious reminder that beaches have always been as sort of frontier which demands, of historians and anthropologists alike, a sensitivity to “both sides of the beach” and requires a sort of “double-visioned” epistemology and scholarly imaginary (Islands and Beaches: Discourses on a Silent Land, 1980; Beach Crossings: Voyaging Across Time, Cultures, and Self), ethnographic work in foreshore or nearshore contexts has not been particularly well represented in the literature, nor particularly closely scrutinized and seasteads are proposed as "good to think" about resistance and reappropriation of and across the beach.

Discourses and Practices around GhostNet Art

Géraldine Le Roux (Université de Bretagne Occidentale )

Marine litter is seen as a global environmental problem without border (OSPAR, 2009) and as such it is an interesting entree to question the notion of maritime frontiers. Recently several Australian Indigenous communities based around the Gulf of Carpentaria have integrated ghost nets to their weavings and sculptures. This communication will explore how the artists valorize the message more than the material, expressing values of respect toward the sea and the marine creatures, revealing totemic links and strengthening cultural protocols on the marine environment. But the international circulation of the artworks seems to go with a globalizing discourse on the protection of oceans. Is this recognition part of a larger process of control marine spaces and privatization of marine resources? In looking at discussions and negotiations that surround the collecting and circulation of ghost nets, we will unveil the values given to a territory, defined by both marine and land borders.

Hope and anxiety: the fish farm project in Hao after the CEP

Makiko Kuwahara (Kinjo Gakuin University)

France established the CEP (Centre d’Expérimentations de Pacifique) in French Polynesia in 1962 and conducted 193 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests in Moruroa and Fangataufa from 1966 to 1996. During the CEP, Hao, an atoll of the Tuamotu in French Polynesia, was used as a rear base for nuclear tests. The CEP developed infrastructure and social welfare as well as created a wide range of employment, but contaminated the environment and affected traditional livelihoods. After France ended the nuclear tests in 1996, the CEP and militaries were withdrawn from Hao, and people in Hao sought for alternative industries to replace the CEP economy. This presentation focuses on the fish farm project in progress in Hao, invested from Chinese private company in cooperation of French Polynesian government. The advantage of the project seems to promise the creation of employment. After the decline of black pearl farming in the 20th century, the main industries of Hao have been only copra and fishing which do not provide people enough income to keep the same quality of life as in the CEP period. However, people worry about pollution in lagoon where they fish for their everyday food and obstruction of the farm on their trip to the islets for copra. Thus, this presentation examines frontier dynamics raised in external exploitation of marine resources and rehabitalization of the environment and livelihoods, focusing on the fish farm project in Hao after the CEP.