Laws of the Sea : Interdisciplinary Currents book cover
1st Edition

Laws of the Sea
Interdisciplinary Currents

Edited By

Irus Braverman

ISBN 9781032070629
Published August 3, 2022 by Routledge
318 Pages 45 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Laws of the Sea assembles scholars from law, geography, anthropology, and environmental humanities to consider the possibilities of a critical ocean approach in legal studies.

Unlike the United Nations’ monumental Convention on the Law of the Sea, which imagines one comprehensive constitutional framework for governing the ocean, Laws of the Sea approaches oceanic law in plural and dynamic ways. Critically engaging contemporary concerns about the fate of the ocean, the collection’s twelve chapters range from hydrothermal vents through the continental shelf and marine genetic resources to coastal communities in France, Sweden, Florida, and Indonesia. Documenting the longstanding binary of land and sea, the chapters pose a fundamental challenge to European law’s “terracentrism” and its pervasive influence on juridical modes of knowing and making the world. Together, the chapters ask: is contemporary Eurocentric law—and international law in particular—capable of moving away from its capitalist and colonial legacies, established through myriad oceanic abstractions and classifications, toward more amphibious legalities?

Laws of the Sea will appeal to legal scholars, geographers, anthropologists, cultural and political theorists, as well as scholars in the environmental humanities, political ecology, ocean studies, and animal studies.

Table of Contents


List of Contributors


Amphibious Legal Geographies: Toward Land-Sea Regimes

Irus Braverman

Chapter 1

The Vexed Liminality of Hydrothermal Vents: An Opportunity to Unmake the Law of the Sea

Surabhi Ranganathan

Chapter 2

Commodifying the Oceans: The North Sea Continental Shelf Cases Revisited

Henry Jones

Chapter 3

Imagining Justice with the Abyssal Ocean

Susan Reid

Chapter 4

Genetic Freedom of the Seas in the Age of Extractivism: Marine Genetic Resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction

Irus Braverman

Chapter 5

Oceanic Heterolegalities? Ocean Commons and the Heterotopias of Sovereign Legality

Vito De Lucia

Chapter 6

Mining the Seas: Speculative Fictions and Futures

Elizabeth DeLoughrey

Chapter 7

Navigating the Structural Coherence of Sea Ice

Philip Steinberg, Greta Ferloni, Claudio Aporta, Gavin Bridge, Aldo Chircop, Kate Coddington, Stuart Elden, Stephanie C. Kane, Timo Koivurova, Jessica Shadian, and Anna Stammler-Gossmann

Chapter 8

UNCLOS as a Geopolitical Chokepoint: Locked Down, Locked In, Locked Out

Elspeth Probyn

Chapter 9

From Extended Urbanization to Ocean Gentrification: Miami’s River Port and the Precarious Geographies of Haitian Shipping

Jeffrey S. Kahn

Chapter 10

Miles and Norms in the Fishery of Marseille: On the Interface between Social Norms and Legal Rules

Florian Grisel

Chapter 11

Divided Environments: Scalar Challenges in Sweden’s Marine and Coastal Water Planning

Aron Westholm

Chapter 12

Good Human–Turtle Relationships in Indonesia: Exploring Intersecting Legalities in Sea Turtle Conservation

Annet Pauwelussen & Shannon Switzer Swanson


We Are All Complicit: Performing Law through Wavewriting

Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos


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Irus Braverman is Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of Geography at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. Her books include Planted Flags: Trees, Land, and Law in Israel/Palestine (2009), Zooland: The Institution of Nature (2012), and Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink (2018) as well as the coedited volume Blue Legalities: The Laws and Life of the Sea (2020). Braverman’s monograph, Settling Nature: The Conservation Regime in Palestine-Israel, is forthcoming.


The human impact on the atmosphere is a matter of intense common concern. The human impact on the ocean, humanity’s other ultimate common good, must also be studied at the empirical and legal and conceptual levels, enabling a more sophisticated legal response. This ground-breaking book is a major contribution to that study.   

---Philip Allott, Professor Emeritus of International Public Law at Cambridge University

We are at a critical juncture in ocean governance. This collection raises important questions that highlight both the explicit and the less explicit choices in future ocean governance, including whether the existing legal architecture should be fixed or remade. The unique timing of this collection makes the questions tackled in this book not only academically interesting for the multiple disciplines represented, but of immense practical importance for our shared future.

---Lisa Campbell, Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy, Duke University 

These thought-provoking, imaginative essays push beyond conventional representations of the oceans as distinctive legal spaces. The authors connect deeply researched case studies to new analytical approaches to maritime legal geographies.

---Lauren Benton, Barton M. Biggs Professor of History and Professor of Law, Yale University; author of A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900

The sea is a space of law — and more, exactly, laws, plural. As the contributors to this book teach us across a range of powerful near-shore, open-ocean, deep marine, and aquabiotic cases, legal abstractions now saturate, slice up, and, sometimes, sicken the sea itself. Tuning to how law in fact operates as amphibious — mixing land and sea — this book is a brief for re-mapping sea law is ways at once more empirical and more just.

---Stefan Helmreich, author of Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas

The wateriness of law is longstanding. Colonial domination, slavery, and indentured labour were enabled by an amphibious assault of power/knowledge. But in most accounts the watery spaces and beings of this planet remain over-determined by land-based notions of sovereignty, and laws "grounded" on islands, shorelines, and continental contiguities. This collection of timely and evocative essays shatters the land/sea binary, and breaks down the borders of life/non-life. Moving across the sea-bed to river-deltas, marine genetic resources, and fisheries, the book is a rich collection of the new forms of knowledge and epistemic practices needed in order to appreciate amphibious legal geographies. This book, then, is a raft that may help life and non-life survive the toxic legacies of western legal abstraction.

---Stewart Motha, Professor of Law, Birkbeck, University of London

This is a wonderful series of critiques of traditional law of the sea. The authors show the utter inadequacy of formal distinctions such as those between territorial sea and the high seas, continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone to the interdependent reality of the ocean space. From a number of interdisciplinary perspectives, they develop a pertinent critique of the extractive bias in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. They demonstrate the destructive consequences of deep-sea mining on vital life forms on the abyssal ocean floor and implore the law’s ignorance of the importance of ice for the living conditions of artic peoples. Although much information on marine ecosystems has been collected since the conclusion of the Law of the Sea Treaty in 1982, very little is still known of how present and planned activities affect biological diversity, and seabed features such as hydrothermal vents, for example. The essays open a kaleidoscopic image of the innumerable ways in which human and marine lives are dependent on each other. The result is a pertinent warning against allowing superficial economic interests to determine the ways in which human activities relate to the ocean world.

--- Martti Koskenniemi, FBA, Emeritus Professor of International Law, University of Helsinki, Finland