Seeing Like the Sea: The Gaza Freedom Flotilla Research Project

This research will begin medias maris – in the middle of the sea. I seek to show how this is a privileged vantage point from which we can re-think politics and theory, nature and humanity, today. As an embedded fieldworker aboard the Greek ship to Gaza, I demonstrate how the middle of the sea is not merely a random stigma on the nautical map, but a blank spot in our conventional mental maps for navigating a common planet. I suggest that the maritime turn in the International Solidarity with Palestine Movement offers new analytical frames to think about engaging the sea as actor in its own right. The actor-sea is not new(s) for marine biologists and climate change researchers, but there is much work to be done in the social and political sciences in order to acknowledge that the sea – the surface that covers the majority of the planet – can speak. I posit that beneath the Ships to Gaza the Sea spoke twofold:

First, in articulating an anarchist Mediterraneanism, i.e. a radical political vision of the Mediterranean region in terms of inclusion and solidarity, based on a unified and unifying fact of sharing the same shores, irrespective of the borders and claims of the state. The Sea beneath the Ships openly challenged the siege, but also the control over the sea by state formations, i.e. empires, armies, and transnational corporations, whose increasing siege over the world’s oceans and running waters sows multiple environmental and humanitarian disasters.

Second, in articulating a politics of pleasure and proximity, i.e. an understanding of politics as a collective activity fundamentally grounded not necessarily in rational argument and the struggle of interests, but in the enactment of proximity in terms of affective ties and downscaled political imaginaries but also in the enhancement of pleasure in the face of acute danger. As the besieged Gazans often show, enjoying the sea while disrupting the order of the siege constitutes perhaps the founding act of politics.

My first publication on the issue in Anthropology Today 2010: