Surabhi Ranganathan - Unmaking the Ocean

Atlantic Tharp Map: Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen, “A map of the Atlantic Ocean floor published in 1968 based on a large number of deep ocean soundings compiled by Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp, painted by Heinrich Berann for National Geographic Magazine. Image courtesy of Ken Feld, International Cartographic Association. Reprinted in Dawn J. Wright, “Swells, Soundings, and Sustainability, but…‘Here Be Monsters’,” Oceanography 30.2 (June, 2017),, accessed 26 November 2018 (link provided by Surabhi Ranganathan). Unmaking the Ocean examined the co-production of international law and the ocean from 1945 to now. Both the ocean and international law were radically transformed in this period. By tracing their co-constitution, we can extend the history of international law into new areas: ocean depths and bottoms, global commons, marine infrastructures, and techno-utopian imaginaries; throw new light on current preoccupations of the history of international law: statehood and territory, decolonization and the new international economic order, the Cold War, race and inequality, and the emergence of new legal forms and institutions; and unpick the ways in which particular definitions, and framings of the ocean - that, inter alia, account for its perilous state today - have become universalised through an oceanic ‘constitution’, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


This seminar took place on Wednesday 23 September 2020.