The masking of an urban Southern Ocean

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper will consider the operationalisation of spaces least likely to correspond with traditional notions of ‘the urban', such as the wilderness of the Southern Ocean. For emergent realities of planet-scaled urban processes – and increasing awareness of the imbrication of the deep sea, coastlines and cities across the globe – register an urgent need to extend current ontologies of 'the urban'. Often described as at ‘the end of the Earth’, the Southern Ocean is an extraordinary geo-imaginary, removed from everyday experiences of the world (Elzinga, 2016). This is expressed through representations we continually encounter: visually, conceptually, and geopolitically. Mythologised pasts, visions of a ‘pure’ present, and techno-utopian futures all work, however, to limit our conception of the Southern Ocean. Landed bias also renders oceanic volumes largely invisible: considered only as smooth shipping surface or opaque volume from which to extract resources. Oceanic space is, however, a clear manifestation of what Brenner & Schmid (2015) describe as ‘extended urbanisation’: vast landscapes co-opted by expansive and exploitative urban processes. An urbanising Southern Ocean is thus a significant arena of critical disregard. The world’s ‘newest’ and most vulnerable ocean hosts unusual entanglements of water, ice, weather, atmosphere, land and life, and is of great import to disruptions popularly framed via the Anthropocene. When we reduce the ocean to a mere backdrop for human action, our capacity to respond to planetary-scale transformations enacted by everyday urban practices is fundamentally diminished. To further problematise this frontier of urbanisation, I will address the masking of an urban Southern Ocean, drawing on my ongoing doctoral research. I ask: How do urban processes manifest in remote environments such as the Southern Ocean? And in what ways do imaginaries represent this volume as un-urbanised, when evidence exists to the clear contrary?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2019
EventAt the frontiers of the urban: thinking concepts and practices globally - UCL Urban Laboratory, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 10 Nov 201912 Nov 2019


ConferenceAt the frontiers of the urban: thinking concepts and practices globally
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • urban
  • ocean
  • Southern Ocean
  • climate change
  • planetary
  • urbanisation
  • Autonomous underwater vehicles

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