The Mines of Tomorrow: More-than-human operators of deep sea urbanisation

Amelia Hine, Charity Edwards

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Ongoing debates regarding a new ‘urban age’ and the global reach of extractive processes (Brenner, 2014; Brenner & Schmidt, 2011; Rickards et al., 2016) bring attention to many disregarded operations that extend well into the ‘wilderness’, far from human encounter and oversight. Scaffolding a now planet-scaled reading of urbanisation, the mining industry is a particularly pertinent case study for how contemporary everyday lives are both supplied by, and geographically extended through, ongoing interventions in ever more remote and challenging spaces around the globe. In this paper, we argue that these distant and diffuse manifestations of exploitation are made explicit through human-animal relationships transformed through technology. Facilitating this urban expansion is the ‘instrumentation’ of beings other than humans for unsafe labour roles. By way of example, Southern elephant seals ('Mirounga leonina') are increasingly utilised as bio-logged operators in deep sea environments through technological augmentation that enable humans to remotely conduct oceanographic research and acquire ‘pole to pole’ hydrographic profiles of the world’s oceans. Elephant seals are particularly adept at the deep dives required to investigate the difficult terrain of this largely unexplored space; are easy targets for scientific researchers to tag on land with satellite linked biologgers; and, at their most perfunctory, represent a highly skilled and evolutionarily adapted mobile infrastructure already existing within challenging oceanic environments that typically call for expensive, sensitive, and unreliable human-made hardware to undertake similar exploration tasks. While instrumentation of elephant seals for scientific exploration has been advancing steadily, humans have simultaneously been improving the technological capabilities of their machinic colleagues: in particular, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV’s). As seabed mining becomes an attractive option, the primarily ecological driver of oceanic exploration will inevitably extend to rare mineral extraction from the deep sea bed, and the convergence of elephant seal and AUV functionality seems likely. Through this paper we highlight the under-recognised more-than-human, nonhuman and inhuman agency within this framework of remote oceanic exploration, and work toward recognising and reframing the elephant seal and the AUV beyond instrumentation. With this aim in mind, we take a mixed methodological approach to this speculative enquiry, combining mapping and imaging practices to explore seal and AUV overlaps and performativity. Complementing this visual study are a number of interviews with human scientists, reflecting on their own relationships with their more-than-human coworkers and exploring possible future trajectories for their development and expansion. Building upon these two enquiries, we employ the graphic and storytelling techniques of speculative science fiction to project forward an imagined future of deep sea mining that focuses on the experience of the more-than-human and their interrelationships, nominally in the service of increasingly planet-scaled urban processes. Within this speculative future, these more-than-human operators seem destined to become yet another example of transnational mining ventures co-opting local populations and knowledge in order to provide the resource speculation that neoliberal economies and their cities depend upon to keep growing; a new nation and its citizens for the deterritorialized state that characterises extractivism. We ask however how new relationships forming between humans, animals, and others may also transform spaces around the globe, and as Kate Derickson (2015: 653) prompts, "identify and nurture new solidarities and subjectivities, while troubling existing representations".
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventNZGS/IAG Conference 2018: ‘Creative Conversations, constructive connections’ - University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Duration: 11 Jul 201814 Jul 2018


ConferenceNZGS/IAG Conference 2018
CountryNew Zealand
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