Elisabeth Schober: "Of Terraqueous Spaces and Waterborne Capitalism. Speculations in Shipbuilding and its Effects on Subic Bay in the Philippines."

The Departmental Seminar Series features Elisabeth Schober, Assistant professor at the department of social anthropology at the University of Oslo.

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This seminar will be a hybrid seminar where you can participate in person or via Zoom. Join Zoom Meeting.


The world’s seas and oceans are arguably our largest commons: hard to control, impossible to fence off, and yet heavily contested, they have often encouraged risk-taking among the people engaging with them. Land, and the various property regimes it has given rise to, is frequently thought in opposition to these fluid terrains.

By looking at shipbuilding, an industry sat at the very boundary between sea and land, I will first engage with recent work around “terraqueous territoriality” (Campling and Kolas 2017; Chalfin 2019), a notion which highlights distinct forms of sovereignty, territory and capitalist appropriation at the interfaces between sea and water. Secondly, by building on ethnographic fieldwork in Subic Bay in the Philippines, I will look at this location’s recent unsuccessful incorporation into the world of South Korean shipbuilding. Subic, I will argue, is a coastal area with a distinct post-colonial history that became a speculative space for the maritime industry in part due to the recent rise of ultra-large container vessels as the new “workhorses” of globalization.

Via a theoretical excursion into the anthropology of speculation, I shall argue that the kind of economic undertaking that Subic was subjected to when a large shipyard was erected there has much to do with a «waterborne capitalism” currently in overdrive, and which significantly relies on the ready availability of common resources and publicly subsidized infrastructures to build the ultra-large ships it depends upon.

Published Aug. 12, 2021 10:46 PM - Last modified Oct. 28, 2021 8:38 AM