LUCSUS seminar: Smart Marine Spaces and Modalities of State Power
A LUCSUS seminar with Max Ritts (and Mike Simpson), University of British Columbia
In many places around the globe, marine space is being rendered into ‘smart’ space: searchable and mappable space, capable of modeling and performing various eco-regulatory functions. Expressive of these trends, Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a quasi-private initiative based out of Victoria, BC, is building “the smartest coast on the planet.” This globally recognized endeavour has been lauded and generously supported by the Canadian state, which casts "Smart Oceans" as a politically benign form of data collection consistent with its export-led resource development model. Drawing on policy reports, grey and white papers, trade journals, and critical geographical theory, I argue that "Smart Oceans" is instructive for discussions around the state's changing techno-economic functions, and their subordination to its generic function of maintaining societal cohesion. “Smart Marine Spaces” have the power to dramatically shift the discourse and practice of marine governance, including the ways environmentalist and Indigenous challenges are to be accommodated within techno-bureaucratic formations premised on the ideology of networks and the claims of data analytics. In their apparent multimodality, they support the trenchant liberal fantasies of the neo-colonial state, including openness, inclusion, and the representation of difference as various spatial use “functions.” But in assessing their prominence in the politically fractured context of development along Canada’s West Coast, we find a paradoxical situation where state power is extended via recognition of its growing failures in regulatory and policy coordination, and risk-mitigatory strategies are implemented on the basis of collective disavowals over the very real proximity to marine environmental disaster.
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