Thinking about Ownership of the Sea

February 8, 2018

Stephanie Weir

The notion of property has had many accolades assigned to it. In some iterations, it is the bringer of freedom (Anderson and Huggins 2003); in others it is a wielder of power (Underkuffler 2003). It is also a way of distinction between culture and nature, boiled down to the ownable and unownable. Land, a cultural prism, has long been an easily divisible and ownable space, whereas the sea, in its distant bubble of “hypernature,” has never been for individual ownership (Helmreich 2011; Jackson 1995). (I speak here of course for our modern Western society; individuals and communities have apportioned and “owned” coastal areas in numerous cultures across centuries [see, e.g., Mulrennan and Scott 2000]).

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