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Ocean views: an investigation into human-ocean relations

Kennedy, Deborah Jane (2007) Ocean views: an investigation into human-ocean relations. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This dissertation investigates some conceptions of oceans in modern Western societies that are highly influential in shaping human-ocean relations. My main aim in this dissertation is to demonstrate that the Western discourses of law, science and the aesthetic of the sublime illuminate characteristics of human-ocean relations in Western societies. I argue that the conceptions developed and perpetuated in the discourses of law, aesthetics and science unnecessarily constrain the possibilities for human-ocean relations and undermine just existences of oceans. A further aim of this dissertation is to set out an ethical political approach that is inclusive of a diversity of ocean views that facilitate improved knowledge about the oceans and transform dominant human ocean relations into more just relations.

In approaching my critique of Western discourses of law, aesthetics and science I canvas a range of philosophical, social and political theories, but make most use of the insights of feminist and ecological feminist thinkers into forms of oppression and environmental justice. I also move beyond critique to set out an approach for structuring ocean policy debates and outcomes with a form of political epistemology that de-centres influential Western conceptions of oceans and is inclusive of a diversity of perspectives.

In carrying out this dissertation's investigation I find that particular conceptions of oceans in the discourses of law, aesthetics and science narrowly define how Western human subjects think, feel and interact with oceans. These discourses provide a dominant position for Western subjects over those of other people and the oceans. This is how, in basic terms, I suggest that Western discourses undermine just existences for oceans. A common feature in the discourses that frame the conceptions of oceans that I discuss is the exclusion of a diversity of human-ocean relations from consideration. To counter the exclusionary practices of Western discourses I find that robust democratic processes are essential for just ocean existences. The importance of democratic processes is not only that they constitute ethical processes, and should be valued highly for that reason, but also because of a capacity to produce and deliver improved knowledge about the oceans and transform human-ocean relations. I advocate in particular the approach to political epistemology of Bruno Latour as one way to work toward just ocean existences. In the approach I advocate, oceans participate in democratic processes as agents, not as mere objects awaiting human benevolence or exploitation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy
Supervisor(s): Stocker, Laura and Hallen, Patsy
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