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Project aims

BLUE: More-than-Human Ethnographies of Oceans in Crisis

We live on a blue planet: a world dominated by oceans. But the world's oceans are in crisis. The "great industrial acceleration" after World War 2 has changed the chemical, biological, and temperature dynamics of the oceans, threatening marine ecosystems as well as the livelihoods of the 3 billion people who depend on them.

BLUE: More-than-Human Ethnographies of Oceans in Crisis combines a "blue humanities" approach with natural science methods to retool the empirical, multispecies study of four key anthropogenic-ecological crises of oceans: invasive species, plastic pollution, ocean warming, and ocean acidification. These four crises are complex in two ways, each of which poses a challenge to research.

Firstly, they are compound crises of "natureculture": the complex outcome of the interaction of anthropogenic histories with ecological/chemical/climatic dynamics. Here a key intervention of BLUE is to combine robust forms of ethnographic fieldwork (to trace the former) with ecological attention of the kind developed in biology (to address the latter). Inspired by insights from the multispecies turn, the goal is learn to be methodologically and analytically attentive to both the human and nonhuman lifeworlds of ocean crises. We have begun to develop such more-than-human attentiveness in previous research (Bubandt & Tsing, 2018b; Swanson, Bubandt and Bubandt 2015; Tsing, Swanson, Gan and Bubandt 2017) as well as in forthcoming studies (Bubandt, Anderson and Cypher 2021).

Secondly, these four crises are simultaneously local and global. To explore their local-global nature, BLUE employs the ecological concept of patch dynamics in anthropological analysis of more-than-human worlds (Bubandt, Mathews and Tsing 2019).  Warmer and more acid oceans, micro-plastics and invasive species are all "patchy" crises: unique to each site and yet common across oceans. BLUE links the ecological patchiness of each crisis to its human patchiness by tracing how scientists and communities seek to understand and live with ocean crises.

BLUE proposes a "more-than-human blue humanities" that applies a "multispecies approach" to ocean worlds, but also seeks to redirect the thrust of multispecies research from predominantly land-based study to the study of the fluid zones where ocean world and human worlds link up. 

For research reports from the multispecies fluid fields, we study, click here


Bubandt, N., & Tsing, A. (2018). An Ethnoecology for the Anthropocene: How A Former Brown-Coal Mine in Denmark Shows Us the Feral Dynamics of Post-Industrial Ruin. Journal of Ethnobiology, 38(1), Online supplement, page 1-13.

Bubandt, N., Mathews, A., & Tsing, A. (2019). Patchy Anthropocene. The Frenzies and Afterlives of Violent Simplifications. Current Anthropology, Wenner-Gren Symposium Supplement 20.  Available at https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/journals/ca/Wenner-Gren-Supplements.

Bubandt, N., Andersen, A. O., & Cypher, R. A. (Eds.). (2021). Multispecies Methods for the Anthropocene.  Curiosity, Collaboration and Critical Observation in Multispecies Fieldwork. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.

Swanson, H., Bubandt, N., & Tsing, A. (2015). Less than One but More than Many:  Anthropocene as Science Fiction and Scholarship-in-the-making. Environment and Society: Advances in Research, 6, 149-166.

Tsing, A., Swanson, H. A., Gan, E., & Bubandt, N. (Eds.). (2017). Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet. Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.