Ocean Cultures, Underwater Worlds

“An ethical context is not a strategy or a prescription or remedy. An ethical context is a concept of relationship—one we wish to acknowledge or one we seek to forge.”

  • Carl Safina, “Launching a Sea Ethic”

The SEI and our collaborators acknowledge and forge relationships between humans and the oceans, and promote understanding of maritime cultures and marine ecosystems. We do this by gathering scholars, artists, activists, and the public to collaboratively design and create new oceanic visions and new oceanic knowledge. We generate and support original academic research, innovative art projects, and international conferences and workshops.

Our approaches are as diverse as our team and our collaborators, drawing from the arts, humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences. We are committed to the idea that engaging with the oceans requires us to engage with each other, across conventional disciplinary boundaries, not to mention institutional, social, and cultural ones. Among other things, we recognize and explore the terms, concepts, and predispositions that comprise our cultural inheritance, and that help shape our understanding of the seas. Key, here, is an eagerness to honor and attend to those cultures whose senses of the ocean have been pushed to the margins of the main stream. Doing so is not only ethically and intellectually right, but baldly necessary, if we are to cultivate new ways of being with the sea in the Anthropocene.

Our endeavors have borne various fruit, and promise grander things ahead. We have cosponsored colloquia in Australia and North America, including The Sea – Episodes and Imaginings, The Underwater Realm, and Arts, Science, Oceans. We have facilitated interdisciplinary field research on the Great Barrier Reef, at the University of Queensland’s Heron Island Research Centre as well as the University of Sydney’s One Tree Island Research Centre. We are producing a book, Senses of the Submarine (co-editors Margaret Cohen & Killian Quigley), which considers the ways the undersea has challenged and tantalized human cultures over the past several hundred years. And we never stop exchanging ideas – within academia and well beyond it – about our oceanic pasts, presents, and futures.